Claims over fatal ambulance crash thrown out of court

05/19/2014 8:00 AM |
HIghway department workers install a street sign last year along the Peconic River in memory of fallen ambulance volunteer Heidi Behr, as the Behr family —  Heidi's grandmother Dorothy, mother June, father John and sister Dana look on. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

HIghway department workers install a street sign last year along the Peconic River in memory of fallen ambulance volunteer Heidi Behr, as the Behr family — Heidi’s grandmother Dorothy, mother June, father John and sister Dana look on. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Nine years after two people were killed in an Aquebogue ambulance crash while transporting a cardiac patient, two of three claims filed by the victims’ families against Riverhead Town and the ambulance company have been thrown out of court.

A third claim brought by the family of the ambulance’s patient will continue making its way through the justice system.

Last Wednesday, a state appellate division panel dismissed claims filed against the town and Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps driver Eric Maas by the families of Heidi Behr and William Stone, two emergency medical technicians who died in the May 3, 2005, crash.

Appellate judges, however, didn’t dismiss the allegations against the town and Mr. Maas by the family of Joseph Wowak, who was being transported to the hospital at the time of the accident.

Though badly injured in the crash, Mr. Wowak later died of reportedly unrelated causes.

The crash occurred when the ambulance driven by Mr. Maas, heading west on Main Road en route to Central Suffolk Hospital (now called Peconic Bay Medical Center), swerved to avoid a westbound dump truck operated by John White, who was turning left off Main Road.

The ambulance crashed into a tree, killing Ms. Behr, a volunteer EMT who lived in Riverhead, and Mr. Stone, a paid EMT from Rocky Point.

Originally, three separate lawsuits were filed in 2006: one each by the families of Ms. Behr, Mr. Stone and Mr. Wowak. However, the courts later combined them into one lawsuit that names Riverhead Town; Mr. Maas; Mr. White; Mr. White’s company, Wine Services; and the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance as defendants.

The amount of damages sought wasn’t specified in the lawsuit, which alleges that the ambulance was operated recklessly.

In January 2013, state Supreme Court Judge William Rebolini denied a motion by defendants to dismiss the case against them.

The town and Mr. Maas appealed the judge’s ruling, resulting in last week’s partial dismissal. Mr. White and the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps didn’t appeal, so the initial case brought against them continues, said John Denby, the outside attorney handling the case for the town.

The suits brought by the families of Ms. Behr and Mr. Stone will proceed only against Mr. White and Wine Services, since their original lawsuits didn’t name the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps as a defendant, Mr. Denby said.

The May 7 appellate court ruling found that “the Supreme Court should have awarded summary judgment dismissing the complaint” against the town and Mr. Maas, as filed by Anne Ryan, executor of Mr. Stone’s estate, and June Behr, executor of her daughter Heidi’s estate.

The judges said the cause of action brought by them is barred by the state’s Volunteer Ambulance Workers’ Benefit law, which bars families of an ambulance volunteer killed in the line of duty from receiving benefits other than those specified in that law.

June Behr declined to comment this week on the basis that she was unaware of the ruling.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter also declined to comment.

tgannon@timesreview.com