Jolene Waldref, 49, died after she fell while walking to a bus stop near 76th and Congress in mid-January, and crews struggled to locate her
Jolene Waldref, 49, died in January after she slipped and fell near a bus stop in Milwaukee
Mark Borkowski, the 11th District Alderman for the City of Milwaukee, has called the situation “very discouraging”
Curtis Ambulance Service's CEO Jim Baker said the crews "did the best they could by looking for the patient"
An ambulance crew is being criticized for their response to a woman’s call for help in Milwaukee before she died in sub-freezing temperatures last month.
Jolene Waldref, 49, died in mid-January after she fell while walking to a bus stop near 76th and Congress in Milwaukee amid dangerously cold temperatures, according to NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Shannon Burns Eckert, who started a GoFundMe campaign following the incident, said Waldref “had finished work” when she “slipped on some ice and fell face forward into the snow.”
The “feels like” temperatures in the Milwaukee area were between 20 and 30 degrees below zero when the incident occurred, according to ABC affiliate WISN-TV.
The woman called 911 for help, and crews arrived in about four minutes, WMTJ-TV reported. However, crews were not able to immediately locate the victim, and even drove by her while searching, according to CBS affiliate WDJT-TV.
Footage obtained by the local station seemingly shows the ambulance did not slow down as it reportedly passed the woman, who was located near the bus stop.
A passerby eventually spotted the woman in a snowbank and called for help as well, per the reports. Crews then finally reached Waldref, who died from hypothermia less than an hour later.
Neither Curtis Ambulance nor the Milwaukee Medical Examiner immediately responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
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Both Curtis Ambulance and the Milwaukee Fire Department said Waldref’s body was hidden behind an electrical box and a garbage can, as well as piles of snow, according to WDJT-TV.
“The crew did the best they could by looking for the patient,” Curtis Ambulance CEO James Baker said, per WDJT-TV.
However, Curtis Ambulance's vice president of operations Dan Robakowski admitted the ambulance crew did not exit their vehicle to search for the woman.
“Our best guess is that the crew was unable to see anybody that was in that sidewalk or fence area,” Robakowski added.
The ambulance crew attempted to call the woman back about five minutes after arriving at the scene, but were ultimately unsuccessful, Baker said, per WTMJ-TV.
By this time, Waldref had already “gone unconscious,” Eckert said.
Mark Borkowski, 11th District Alderman for the City of Milwaukee, called the situation “very discouraging” and “incredibly tragic,” according to WTMJ-TV.
Borkowski, who also chairs the Ambulance Service Board said he particularly “took issue” with statements suggesting crews could not search every snowbank for the woman. “What does it take to get out and look around?” he added.
Baker defended the crew members involved at a press conference on Tuesday, according to WDJT-TV.
"We felt that they did their due diligence,” he explained. “They didn't do anything wrong. The EMS system here worked as designed.”
Baker also said it was difficult for crews to locate Waldref because the woman was not standing upright and was not at the bus stop.
Waldref’s eldest daughter told WTMJ-TV she believes the crew should have exited their vehicle to look for her mother, but did not comment further.
As of midday Friday, more than $22,000 had been raised via the GoFundMe campaign for Waldref’s funeral and her daughters. Her eldest daughter, who is 21, “will be taking guardianship over” her 14-year-old sister, Eckert said.
“These kids have had to grow up much too fast,” Eckert added, noting that their father died six months before their mother.
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