Mar. 22—The morning began as any other with Ty, Holly and Jake walking twice around the marina, about a half mile or so, just as they always did. They'd stroll past the boats, and maybe stop to chat with a neighbor, until it was time to put the dogs back in the car and return home.
Ty Ross really loved the morning walks with his dogs at the Palma Sola marina in West Bradenton. He was a 78-year-old retired supervisor of meter readers in Manatee County who once served in the Navy. Holly, meanwhile, was an Australian shepherd with cobalt blue eyes and Jake was a Boston terrier who looked a little goofy when he was excited, which was always when he was with Ty it seemed.
It was on the morning of Feb. 26 when Ty Ross apparently suffered a heart attack and fell face down in the street at the marina. Jake and Holly stayed by his side until someone came to help. A neighbor arrived and attempted to revive him. A nurse on her way to work stopped and tried as well. At some point 911 was called and Manatee County EMS arrived on the scene along with two deputies from the Sheriff's Office.
Julie Ross, Ty's wife of 43 years, was at a Pilates class while her husband lay in the street. As per class rules she did not have her cellphone on. She had no idea anything was amiss. When class ended she turned on her phone and retrieved a voice mail message from Carrie Price Whaley, her niece:
"I have the worst possible news. Ty is dead."
Whaley picked up Julie Ross and drove to Ross' house because that's where they thought Ty Ross had collapsed. When they arrived, according to Price, a sheriff's deputy was waiting for them and said "your husband is dead. Now you have to figure out how to move the body."
They rushed to the marina—arriving roughly 90 minutes after Ty Ross had been pronounced dead—and discovered EMS was no longer at the scene.
"Apparently EMS tried to revive him, could not and then left," Julie Ross said. "My poor husband lied in the street for an hour, easily."
"It's kind of cold-hearted to go off and leave somebody. It did seem kind of disrespectful."
Said Whaley: "Apparently their policy is if you're dead they leave you."
Ty Ross' upper body was lying in the grass while his legs were on the street. A sheet someone placed over his body did not cover his feet, Julie Ross said. Whaley wonders why someone couldn't have at least put him in a body bag, or moved his feet into the grass and out of the road.
A neighbor came over with some water, a chair and an umbrella while Whaley began trying to reach a funeral home.
And while that was happening Julie Ross just sat there, in a chair, holding an umbrella over her dead husband's body for 90 minutes so the sun would not beat down on him, worried that if something didn't happen soon, if someone didn't show up to transport the body, red ants were going to begin crawling all over him.
And that this was how it would end.
Whaley said some of the residents started coming over and asking, "Why are you guys still here?"
Ty Ross' death certificate says he was pronounced dead at 8:54 a.m. at 1025 Alcazar Drive in Bradenton and the certifier was Dr. Arleta Kitlas, Julie Ross said. He stayed in the grass and road for at least three hours after he died.
Julie Ross said her husband suffered a heart attack and died almost instantly as he was walking his dogs. However, details about what happened at the scene after the death are sketchy.
It is possible EMS could have arrived, unsuccessfully tried to revive him, and then called Kitlas with the details and she pronounced him dead via phone or computer. EMS could have then left the scene, per protocol.
Julie Ross said she is not sure who called the doctor and is not certain it was the EMS paramedics.
"This whole thing about who pronounced him dead I don't know, but obviously the ambulance people thought he was dead," Julie Ross said. "It could have been the sheriff's deputy who called the doctor. Yes, I think it was. I seem to have a recollection, I seem to have an image, of Deputy (Larry) Jackson asking me who his physician was."
What EMS protocol is for this type of situation is unclear as Paul DiCicco, Manatee County's EMS chief, did not respond to calls seeking comment and is difficult to contact. His voicemail system barely has enough time for a person to leave a name and phone number without being cut off. There is no time to state a reason for the call. A voice prompt asks callers if they wish to re-state their message, but the same short time allotment remains.
Dr. Kitlas was not immediately available for comment.
Whaley said she contacted the office of Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore about the situation but did not hear back. Same thing with EMS. She did not hear back. She is considering raising the topic at a commission meeting.
Whaley eventually reached Griffith-Cline Funeral Home that morning but owner Ken Griffith told her he could not get there right away to transport the body. All of his employees were out on other calls. When Griffith showed up in a white van to take the body to the funeral home it was about noon.
Griffith, whose family has owned the business since the 1930s, said there was a time when the funeral home would act as an ambulance service but that has long since stopped. He also said EMS would transport dead bodies to the funeral home but the policy apparently is no longer in effect.
"Something has changed and it's not right," he said. "They need to show empathy to people who have died and to their families. I think if a body is left out in public it is in bad taste, I really do. They can take 15 minutes to take someone out of the public eye, out of the middle of the street."
Though Julie Ross is upset, she also said that perhaps EMS was just following protocol.
"I guess I always thought that EMS would take someone to the morgue and then the funeral home would pick them up," she said. "They wouldn't just leave them. But the way it was explained to me was that if the ambulance takes the body to funeral home then that ambulance is out of commission and what if there was an emergency and they couldn't answer because they already had someone who is not alive?"
Whaley, meanwhile, is not as understanding. "You don't want to beat up on first responders but they don't always do a great job."
She wondered what would happen if someone died in other public places, like the mall for instance. Would someone have to sit next to a dead body in the food court?
"What if a child died at a playground, God forbid, and someone had to sit for three hours like that?" Price said. "That would be horrible."
Jeff Hilliard, who worked for Manatee County EMS from 1976-96, said the county used to have what was called a "day car" that was specifically used for picking up dead bodies and taking them to the morgue, but that is no longer the case.
"I would have put him in back of the unit and waited for Kenny (Griffith) to get there or transported him to the morgue," Hilliard said. "I've never heard of anything like this.