Maryland Family Sues County Over Son's Death During Firefighter Training

FREDERICK -- The parents of a firefighter recruit who died during training in July 2002 are filing a $1 million lawsuit today in Circuit Court against the Division of Fire and Rescue Services as well as former and current directors and members of the division.

James and Shirley Waybright are seeking damages from the county, Stan Poole, former DFRS director; Jeff Coombe, who led the recruits on the fateful run in July 2002; Walter Murray, the current division director; and other staff at the training academy listed as "John Does."

On July 3, 2002, Andrew Waybright collapsed during an exercise session conducted in extreme heat. Civilians who stopped to help him and offered to call 911 were shooed away by academy personnel who said the recruit was "just played out."

Mr. Waybright, 23, was pronounced dead upon arrival at Frederick Memorial Hospital. His temperature was 107.4, but was likely higher than that at one point.

The suit by attorney Kenneth M. Berman faults Mr. Coombe, an untrained leader, for failing to provide hydration, failure to carry basic first aid and communications equipment, failure to inform the recruits of the exercise session.

Mr. Berman said the Waybright family is dismayed that the county would not address the situation. He said it was their intention to settle the issue before going to court.

Frederick County Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr. said Monday night: "I respectfully decline to comment because it is pending litigation."

The suit states that Mr. Poole had a duty to provide training exercises in a reasonable and safe manner "such that they did not endanger the health of the recruits."

Likewise, Mr. Murray also had the responsibility to insure that the training was conducted properly.

The suit also lists John Does 1-20, who, as staff at the academy, breached their duty to carry out the exercises safely, including informing the recruits what was expected of them.

Mr. Berman said in a prepared statement: "The tragic story of the death of Andrew Waybright began with the dream of a farm boy to someday become a firefighter ..."

After the Maryland Occupation Safety and Health cited the county for two serious violations for forcing the recruits to run and exercise on that stifling July day, Mr. Poole was demoted.

Although he created the training sessions for recruits, Mr. Poole told a Board of Inquiry that he had had no knowledge or involvement with the selection of instructors.

Fourteen days after he was demoted, Mr. Poole quit.

Last summer, Mr. Coombe was suspended without pay for 30 days.

MOSH investigators said Mr. Coombe, a paramedic, failed to notice that Mr. Waybright and other recruits were suffering from heat-related illnesses as he pushed them through the grueling exercises and four-mile run while denying them water.

When he challenged his original punishment, the Frederick County Commissioners not only upheld the sanction, but increased it to a month off without pay.

Mr. Coombe is no longer employed in Frederick County, but remains a provider in another nearby jurisdiction.

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