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Parents Angry With Riding Academy's Response to Girl's Fall

Accident: They say instructor did not call 911 immediately. School defends action, saying more information was needed.

December 01, 2000|ROBERTO J. MANZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — Just 4 years old, Eden Jade Smith was thrown from a horse and trampled at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center last week.

Her parents are not angry about the accident but over the response by the nearby equestrian school, which they say refused to immediately summon an ambulance for the girl, who suffered seven broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

The riding school manager acknowledged that an instructor told a family friend seeking help that she needed information about the girl and her location before she would call an ambulance.

Angered by that response, the parents drove Eden to nearby Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

"My main concern is, I don't want to see a child or adult who needs medical treatment be refused it," said 22-year-old Tracey Kellett of Arcadia, the girl's mother. "I want to see their policy changed. They should just ring an ambulance for a person."

Kellett said they would have called an ambulance themselves, but didn't have a cell phone handy and did not see any pay phones nearby.

Officials at the riding school said the instructor followed the family friend to the stricken girl, and then offered to call an ambulance. But the parents, angry at the initial refusal, spurned the offer.

"We went to make sure [an ambulance is] what's needed," said Carolyn Kinnaman, manager of the Traditional Equitation School. "We have to tell [the dispatcher] where they are, who they are, are they conscious, unconscious, are there broken bones? Then we say we are coming out to meet them at front."

According to Kinnaman, Los Angeles Fire Department officials told the school years ago not to call for an ambulance unless workers were sure it was an emergency. "[Workers] were calling without checking and we had to put a stop to this," she said.

The school's emergency procedures sheet tells staff to give information such as a victim's age, gender, condition and what happened.

But a Fire Department spokesman disputed that account, saying the proper procedure is to get the ambulance rolling and direct the crew as more information becomes available.

"They should've just called an ambulance even if they had no information at all--'a girl fell off a horse' is all you need," said Fire Department spokesman Bob Collis.

"There was a delay there shouldn't have been," Collis added. "It'd be nice to have that information, but if it delays the response, I see no need to do that. People call here all the time without any information; we often get more than one call on the same incident."

The Burbank Fire Department, which has a station about a mile from the riding center, also disagreed with the school's procedures.

"What a bad policy," Burbank Fire Capt. Frank Walbert said. "Their policy requires too much before calling 911. It's ludicrous. You need to get the resources rolling."

"It sounds like these people fell victim to their own internal policy," he said. "It almost handcuffed them."

When told of fire officials' critique of the school's policy, owner Patricia Kinnaman, Carolyn Kinnaman's sister, disagreed.

"We were good Samaritans offering service," she said. "I think we're very innocent here. Our hearts go out to the young girl and we're sorry that it happened and we tried the best we could to help them."

The school plans to buy a cell phone for future emergencies, she added.

Saturday's accident occurred when Eden's father, Bruce Smith, placed his daughter on a horse about 1 p.m. The girl is not a school student and wasn't on the school's property. A nearby horse frightened the horse Eden was on, causing it to jump and the girl to fall, Smith said.

"I went to grab her leg and missed," said Smith, 35. "The horse stood on her. She was just screaming, 'My tummy, My tummy. I want to go home.' "

The girl's mother said Eden had blood coming from her nostrils and lips, and her pink shirt was ripped, revealing a large purple bruise on her back caused by the horse's hoof. Smith said he rejected the school's later offer to call an ambulance because he was in shock and just wanted to get his daughter to the hospital.

Fire officials said the parents erred in not equipping the girl with a helmet and by picking her up to put her in their sport utility vehicle, which may have worsened her injuries. Eden was listed in fair condition Thursday at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

On the day of the accident, a friend of the family, Deborah Simmrin, ran into the school office, about 200 feet away, and yelled, "Call an ambulance. A girl has been stepped on by a horse."

But Simmrin, 42, of Glendale, said an instructor responded, "We don't just call ambulances. It's center policy. We have to assess it first."

Ironically, according to equestrian center officials, a show was taking place that day and an ambulance was already on site.

Patricia Kinnaman defended her school's actions, saying the staff offered three times to call 911 She also said the staff would have allowed Simmrin to use the school's phones, had she asked. "They just evaluated the situation so they could say the correct things to the dispatcher," she said. "You basically have some parents trying to put the blame on the school."

George Chatigny, general manager at the equestrian center, also defended the school.

"Why is the equitation school now responsible for their daughter? It was an innocent bystander. The parents were fortunate they were there," he said. "[School staff] were looking for basic information to call 911 and they didn't get the basic information."

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