St. John Tradewinds News

St. John Dead Left in Limbo

One of St. John Rescue's transport vehicles. Image courtesy of stjohnrescue.org.

A volunteer rescue group that has aided St. John by transporting the dead as a community service expressed frustration this week with the process of formalizing an agreement with the V.I. government.

As a result, the president of the group, St. John Rescue, says she’s not sure they can continue.

At issue is a Memorandum of Understanding between Rescue and the Justice Department.

Since 2006, community volunteers have retrieved the bodies of those St. John residents discovered dead on arrival. One knowledgeable source, who wished to remain anonymous, said deceased residents would be removed from the place they were found and taken to the morgue at Myrah Keating Smith Clinic.

But now, 10 months since the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and 9 months after Keating Clinic was closed, the process of preparing the dead for a trip to St. Thomas has grown in complexity.

“This is a complex multilayered situation meaning the MOU in its current form cannot be executed,” said Rescue President Andi Vacharat. Rescue was in the midst of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with Justice.

The head of Justice — Attorney General Claude Walker — said as of Tuesday morning talks were still going on. “We are in the process of trying to resolve that. There may be other matters besides the MOU.”

Because St. John does not receive a full complement of government services, the last place someone on island was found alive is not visited by a member of the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Four years ago, the matter of formalizing an agreement with Rescue came up. It was determined then that conditions leading to an agreement required a contract instead of an MOU. Prior to that, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, St. John Public Works acquired a hearse to serve the public.

A little later on, a retired National Park ranger undertook the task using an old station wagon with sketchy springs.

At that time the head of St. John Rescue, Bob Malacarne, called it a matter of liability.

The impasse reached between Rescue and the government slowed down to a point where one St. John family was left with the task of loading their deceased relative in the back of a pick up truck and taking them to St. Thomas themselves on the inter island barge.

Today, If the situation arose on St. Thomas or St. Croix, a special vehicle operated by a Justice Department employee would visit the scene and remove the remains once police and medical personnel documented that death had occurred.

Emergency Medical Service personnel are not permitted to make a pick up, the source said, because St. John has two ambulances to serve the island. If an emergency call were to come in while an ambulance was transporting someone who had died the attendance would find themselves in an awkward position, they said.

Senator-At-Large Brian Smith did not return a phone call placed to his office to ask if he was aware of the problem. St. John Administrator Camile Paris Jr., said he did not receive notice from St. John Rescue that there was a problem.

But once word reached the administrator, Paris said he visited the EMS station in Cruz Bay at the Morris F. de Castro Clinic and spoke with officials there. And while no immediate solution came from those talks, more talks would follow soon, he said, with EMS and the Department of Health.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds.