Ruling backs jail's medical staff

Published by on July 1, 2005

Barnhart: Estero medic died in 2002

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A federal judge in Fort Myers has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of an Estero paramedic who died in 2002 about 10 hours after being released from the Lee County Jail.

Roger H. Barnhart's family sued the Lee County Sheriff's Office and Prison Health Services in June 2004, claiming negligent medical care led to Barnhart's April 28, 2002, death.

Prison Health Services is a company the county pays to provide health care at the jail and county stockade. Also named in the suit were nurses Kevin Flickinger and Evelyn McGraw.

Barnhart, 42, who was a paramedic with the Estero Fire District, was arrested on April 27, 2002, and accused of driving under the influence. Though Barnhart's blood-alcohol level was far below the point required to break the law, the arresting officer attributed his erratic driving to a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs.

In a 16-page opinion and order signed June 13, U.S. District Judge John E. Steele wrote that there was no evidence of negligent health care.

Steele wrote that evidence in the case showed Barnhart told nurses when he was processed into the jail that he was taking six types of medication, including some that were prescribed for bipolar disorder.

But when an autopsy was conducted, none of those drugs was found in Barnhart's body while several other prescription drugs were.

Steele wrote that a doctor who served as an expert witness in the case "was greatly concerned by the combination of drugs found in the toxicology report, because they all had sedating effects and the combination could lead to respiratory depression and death."

Steele added there was no evidence the jail medical staff failed to adequately monitor Barnhart, who was put on a drug "withdrawal protocol" when he entered the jail.

Attorney Michael R.N. McDonnell of Naples represents the Barnhart family.

"The judge made his ruling and we'll live with it," McDonnell said.

Attorney Robert M. Stoler, of Tampa, represents the sheriff's office while attorney Gregg A. Toomey of Fort Lauderdale represents Prison Health Services and its nurses.

Neither Stoler nor Toomey had any comment Thursday.