According to Detective M. Nelson’s police report, the patrol officers who arrived on scene said that a Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) was called, and vehicle Unit #503 arrived. Two paramedics named Pat Bajorak and Keith Summerman were the first responders, arriving within twenty minutes at approximately 6:40 a.m. The medics did their work and reported that the victim was deceased. The medics remained on the premises for about an hour altogether according to police officer Ronnie Carr. Carr then notified Sgt. Helton. A couple of other detectives, Sgt. O. Jenkins and Detective Haskins, came out to the scene as well.
Officers interviewed Jim Ducket, 71, the subject’s brother-in-law who lived at the address. Ducket said that Pamela Harper had called him a little after 1 o’clock in the morning. Ducket added that he thought she had sounded drunk, and that she said she had to get out of the house. Ducket claims he told Harper that she needed to not leave the house but that she should try to go to sleep. She said, “OK,” and ended the call. The next person police spoke to was the deceased’s husband, Tanny Harper, aged 60, who admitted that he and his wife had been drinking the night before and he thought his wife may have taken some pain pills. But Mr. Harper stated that he didn’t know if she’d left the house, and he reported last seeing her around midnight.
Detective Nelson reports that he was urgently summoned from another crime scene to join the others at the Harper scene. Nelson reported that Lt. King said there was more going on with the dead body. Nelson arrived around 8:50 a.m.; Detective Haskins filled him in: the first MEMS unit had put a sheet over Ms. Harper before they left. Officers then went back to the body and when they pulled back the sheet, they noticed Ms. Harper had “goose bumps” on her shoulders and back! They observed that her stomach was moving up and down and that air was being exhaled from her mouth. He wrote in his report that they witnessed her taking about ten breaths over a two-minute period. Apparently, the first MEMS ambulance crew had pronounced her dead mistakenly, misdiagnosed rigor mortis. They immediately sought to cover her up and called the MEMS service again.
This time MEMS Unit #408 was dispatched to 1322 Hunters Cove Drive at about 9:10 a.m. In the meantime, officers had spoken to the Pulaski County deputy coroner and described what they saw. The second ambulance crew arrived, immediately started CPR and Paramedic Brandi Johnson hooked Ms. Harper up to a heart monitor. Johnson determined that she couldn’t detect any heart rhythm, decided Harper was dead, and over the phone asked a doctor—Dr. Kennedy at Baptist Emergency—to "declare Harper officially dead.” Johnson was heard saying the victim showed signs of lividity and was cold. Harper's death was now logged in at 9:29 a.m., about three hours since she was first discovered. Before she left, Paramedic Johnson took the time to explain to the detective that what she believed he had observed was air leaving Ms. Harper’s lungs after death. The MEMS unit left the scene once again.
Officer Nelson notified his superior and called Deputy Coroner Patrick McElroy to tell him what had transpired and ask him to respond to the scene. Around 10 that morning, McElroy showed up with Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper and another deputy coroner, Gerone Hobbs. Soon all of them observed Ms. Harper breathe again. She was covered in a blanket and MEMS Unit #133 arrived at 10:27 a.m.; and this time they were advised to take the victim to Baptist Hospital right away. They left around 10:53 a.m., according to the police report.
Unfortunately, Ms. Harper died two days later at Little Rock’s Baptist Health Medical Center.
Autopsy results determined the death was a suicide as the result of an intentional overdose of the narcotic painkiller Darvocet and alcohol. Hypothermia was a contributing factor in her demise.
MEMS administrators accepted responsibility for the mistake, but Executive Director Jon Swanson, along with Medical Director Chuck Mason, said that once the two separate crews believed that 52-year-old Pamela Harper was dead, they followed the correct protocols and made decisions accordingly. They also felt that the coroner had portrayed the incident unfairly by criticizing the agency and its employees. Coroner Camper put in his report that paramedics should have followed a hypothermia protocol. Swanson disagreed, saying that paramedics should have done “Pulseless Electrical Activity” had they known Harper was alive. “I don’t know where he got his medical training,” said Mason, a physician and specialist in emergency medicine, said of Camper. “But it wasn’t medical school.”