‘Beyond belief’: Jackson woman says ex-husband died after waiting 90 minutes for ambulance

Published: Jun. 23, 2023 at 7:22 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Donna Echols recently installed a fish tank in her living room.

For the Northeast Jackson lobbyist, the bright colors and playful, swimming fish help take her mind off what happened there on the night of April 27.

Echols had just returned home from her son’s wedding in the Bahamas to find her ex-husband, “Diamond Jim” James Mabus, on her living room floor, moaning from pain after suffering a stroke.

Mabus, a father of four, had agreed to watch the house while she was gone.

“The dogs [were] acting really funny when I opened the door, very nervous... My immediate thought was that I felt I’d been robbed,” she said. “I ran out of the house, and in a hurry.”

When she went back inside, she found him on the floor. Several couch cushions were strewn about, and a large wall divider had fallen down on top of him.

“He was sitting here and probably had a small stroke and panicked and started grabbing at furniture,” she said, pointing to a black couch. “That’s what they felt like would explain how all this was just a wreck.”

What came next was an excruciating wait for help. Echols says it took approximately 90 minutes before an ambulance arrived, despite calling 9-1-1 five times and reaching out to a friend at AMR directly.

Donna Echols’ 9-1-1 call log:

  • 9:15 p.m. - 2 minute-duration
  • 9:23 p.m. - 1 minute-duration
  • 9:49 p.m. - 1 minute
  • 10:00 p.m. - 1 minute
  • 10:01 p.m. - 1 minute

When paramedics did show up, Echols says it was too late. Mabus lingered on for nearly a week in the intensive care unit at St. Dominic Hospital before dying on May 4.

“To wait almost an hour and a half for life-saving ambulance service is not... it’s inexcusable,” she said. “When you know you’ve got somebody down like that, that needs medical care, to wait an hour and a half is a death sentence.”

Echols says the worst part was knowing paramedics were stationed just five minutes away from her home. However, that ambulance was with Pafford, and it could not respond because Hinds County is served by AMR.

“If you can’t have a helping hand situation, or a mutual aid agreement, and allow Pafford to cross your territory, then are you really about territory and profit or are you about saving lives?” she asked.

Echols spoke to the Jackson City Council at a special called meeting this week. She says something must be done so other families don’t have to experience what she and Mabus went through.

“The trauma involved in that, just somebody watching a loved one, a friend, go through that... It’s just emotional beyond belief to know that my children now had to hear that story,” she said. “And, God forbid, I don’t even what to think what Jim may have been thinking on that floor.”

She said looking on as Mabus suffered had to be equally frustrating for firefighters on the scene.

The Jackson Fire Department responded to Echols’ North Jackson residence 10 minutes after her first call was made.

“It was so brutal and so bad that the firefighters that were at my house that night called AMR and said, ‘Where are you?’” she recalled. “They were sitting there watching the same thing I was watching and couldn’t do any more about it.”

Mabus died about a week after his ex-wife said he waited 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive...
Mabus died about a week after his ex-wife said he waited 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after he had a stroke.(WLBT)

Council Vice-President Angelique Lee told WLBT city leaders have been sounding the alarm about ambulance wait times for years.

“We’ve been hearing from Chief Willie Owens and [Assistant Chief Patrick] Armon from the fire department about AMR’s poor response times,” she said. “[The fire department is] able to deploy to the scene once a 9-1-1 call is enacted. They’re able, with their paramedics, to treat, but unfortunately, they aren’t able to transport.”

Officials with the Jackson Fire Department were not available for comment Friday afternoon.

Additionally, ambulances from other companies aren’t able to provide assistance in Hinds County, unless AMR seeks their help.

That’s something the city of Jackson is working to change.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city previously approved creating its own emergency service district to provide ambulance service solely to Jackson residents.

He said the city is expected to issue a request for proposals for those services “very soon.”

As part of that RFP, the city will require ambulance services to have mutual aid agreements, to ensure no interruptions in service during peak hours.

“I, too, am concerned about residents who have said time and time again that the ambulatory response just takes too long,” Lumumba said. “I’m not going to go as far as to give any indication that I am preferring one company over the other, but I am preferring a better service.”

Council Vice-President Angelique Lee discusses ambulatory services in Jackson.

Council members say they’re familiar with extended wait times as well.

Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell told members it took paramedics more than an hour to respond to his 85-year-old neighbor’s home after she fell and broke her leg.

“I made some calls and still couldn’t get anybody there because it was nighttime, and there were things going on in the city,” he said. “A lot of their paramedics were still on the wall.”

Grizzell explained that paramedics are considered “on the wall” when they’re waiting for hospitals to take in their patients. They can’t respond to additional calls until those patients are off-loaded.

“I understand the business of medicine and saving lives, but we have to make sure that we put the people first,” he said. “As a council, we have to do something to make sure that our citizens are being better served.”

AMR has been a provider of ambulance services in Hinds County since 1991. Under the company’s current contract, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2016 and renewed in 2021, the company must answer 85 percent of service calls in eight minutes or less in Jackson and Clinton, and 12 minutes or less in Byram.

AMR does have the discretion to call other ambulatory services for help but typically does not do so unless mass casualties are reported.

WLBT reached out to AMR to seek an interview but was referred to the company’s corporate communications office.

Ashton Polk, a public relations specialist for Global Medical Response, AMR’s parent company, asked for a list of specific questions related to our inquiry.

A response to those questions was provided after our story aired.

“During the timeframe provided to us, AMR Central Mississippi was at level zero, with eight ambulances and two sprint medics in service for Hinds County already responding to emergency calls,” AMR Public Affairs Manager Jim Pollard said in a statement.

“Level zero is when all units in service are unavailable due to a surge in calls,” he explained. “A sprint medic is a medically equipped truck minus the stretcher, staffed with one paramedic.”

As for mutual aid agreements, Pollard said those agreements are used to address natural disasters and mass casualty events, not daily calls for service.

“If a request for aid is made to another EMS agency, they do their best to respond and assist each other,” he said. “Due to the severe staffing challenges throughout the EMS industry and long hospital wait times, providers strongly prefer to not send a crew out of their primary service area and usually do not have the resources to do so.”

According to GMR’s website, the company has 26 job openings in Mississippi, including two EMTs and one paramedic position in Jackson. Pafford EMS has 56 job openings in the Magnolia State, including two EMT positions in Madison County and one paramedic position in Rankin County.

Echols, meanwhile, has yet to grieve, saying she’s still angry with AMR. She has not been contacted by the company but has received an $1,800 bill.

“I’ve gotten no other response from them at all,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable to think that this could happen to anybody else.”

She’s currently planning a celebration to honor James’ legacy for his birthday next month. And she’s still bracing for college football season, with James having been a major fan.

Donna Echols installed a fish tank in her living room to take her mind off the fact that her...
Donna Echols installed a fish tank in her living room to take her mind off the fact that her ex-husband suffered a stroke there.(WLBT)

As for Echols’ living room, it has been cleaned up, the furniture has been re-arranged, and a new fish tank has been added on the recommendation of therapists.

“I want to be able to see something calm and happy to take the place of something that was horrific,” she said. “You needed peace in the room.”

This story is updated from an original version to include comments from AMR.

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