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Article posted: 2/8/2014 9:09 AM

Carol Stream family suing village, paramedic over 2012 death

Wrongful death alleged in case of choking woman

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A Carol Stream family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Friday against the village and a former paramedic, claiming negligence in the choking death of an 81-year-old woman.

The lawsuit claims that on Aug. 25, 2012, the village "willfully and wantonly breached its duty" when Carol Stream Fire Protection District paramedic Carey Zabran, who is no longer with the district, responded to a call at a Carol Stream party involving Armida Nonneman, who was choking on food and could not breathe.

The suit claims Zabran initiated intubation while the food was still lodged in the woman's throat, despite being informed by licensed off-duty paramedic and former Melrose Park Fire Chief Rick Beltrame that the food needed to be expelled or suctioned out before intubating.

It further claims Zabran was aware that "attempting to intubate a person with food still lodged in the airway can worsen the situation by pushing the food further into the airway." Also, the paramedic failed to provide necessary treatment and to consult with other medical personnel in a timely manner, the suit alleges.

The woman was taken to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, where she died three days later.

Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles, whose termination hearings began on Wednesday, claimed in October 2013 that his bosses were trying to fire him because he refused to participate in a cover-up of possible negligence by the paramedic -- allegations attorneys for the fire district claim "have no validity."

It was only when termination proceedings were being brought against Gilles that James Nonneman, a son of the deceased, said he learned of an investigation into possible negligence -- 14 months after his mother's death.

"Mr. Nonneman and his brother have been looking for the truth on this the entire time," said attorney Paul McMahon, who is representing the family along with attorney Rick Murphy. "It's become clear they were not told the truth. They've asked us to pursue this to get them the truth. If the truth ultimately leads to someone taking responsibility, that should happen, too."

As for the amount of damages sought, McMahon said: "We won't know until we get into the case what we would ask the jury for. There are very few cases for wrongful death that are less than $1 million."

Fire district attorney Karl Ottosen said he would not comment on specific litigation, "but in general terms if it's wrongful death with respect to district service, I think 'disappointed' would be the right thing to say."

"In the near future, we'd expect the testimony of the Gilles trial to show there is no real basis for the lawsuit," Ottosen said. "I do understand the family's right to a lawsuit. From a legal standpoint, we will address the issue in court."

Gilles claims he was asked to investigate the possible negligence and ultimately confirmed allegations that the paramedic, Zabran, did not follow proper protocols. Gilles recommended Zabran be fired and the family and hospital be notified, but he claims Fire Chief Rick Kolomay told him to keep his findings secret.

"The first responder did not do proper procedures and essentially froze," said John Botti, Gilles' attorney.

Gilles alleges he was later asked to give Zabran a failing grade on a performance improvement plan, to give the district a separate reason to fire the paramedic. Gilles said there was no cause for termination based on the PIP. Zabran later resigned.

Gilles subsequently was ordered to participate in his own performance improvement plan. Gilles twice refused to sign his own plan and in September 2013 received a complaint from the chief leading to his termination hearings.

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