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Ambulance driver makes a pit stop at Subway

While Jerrold Winiecki lay in an ambulance, struggling to breathe, the vehicle suddenly pulled off the road and parked. The ambulance driver got out and paid a quick visit to Subway.

While Jerrold Winiecki lay in an ambulance, struggling to breathe, the vehicle suddenly pulled off the road and parked. The ambulance driver got out and paid a quick visit to Subway.

Winiecki wasn't told why his trip to the hospital on Wednesday took a brief detour to a sandwich joint until after Whistleblower called to find out. The answer: The driver for North Memorial Ambulance had an attack of diarrhea. Winiecki, who spent a night in intensive care with a life-threatening infection, questioned the wisdom of a bathroom break while he was being ferried to the emergency room.

"She took the minutes to keep a clean pair of pants on when I'm laying in the back and I can't breathe," Winiecki said Thursday afternoon, a short time after he was released from Unity Hospital and returned to his Anoka County home.

A spokesman for the North Memorial Ambulance said the incident was a rare one, and noted that paramedics remained inside the ambulance to care for Winiecki while the driver took care of business.

"Our ambulance crews are expected to use their best judgment," North Memorial spokesman Robert Prevost said.


Even with the stop, Prevost added, the ambulance covered roughly 25 miles in 25 minutes at rush hour.

Prevost said the ambulance crew should have explained to the family sooner that the driver hadn't stopped for a morning snack, which was the family's first impression. Stopping for food on an ambulance run is prohibited, he said.

The strange journey began about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Winiecki, a 56-year-old retired sandblasting contractor, was alone at his Columbus home when he realized his bad cough had taken a dangerous turn.

He called for an ambulance and alerted family members that he was heading for the hospital. Paramedics hooked him up to an IV drip, but Winiecki said they couldn't do anything to help him breathe.

About 3 miles from his house, the ambulance made a pit stop at a small strip center in Lino Lakes.

Strapped to a gurney, Winiecki couldn't see what was happening, but he knew the corner was home only to a liquor store and a Subway shop.

Subway manager Morgan Selvog saw the paramedic come in and head for the restroom, but she didn't see any signs of distress. "We always are open to letting people use the bathroom," Selvog said. "She was in and out pretty quick."

When Winiecki arrived at Unity Hospital in Fridley, he found out why he was having trouble breathing. He had an abscess at the back of his throat, and a swollen epiglottis that could have blocked his airway and suffocated him.


A heavy dose of antibiotics and a stay in intensive care helped him rally. But before he regained his voice, he wrote a note telling his wife and daughters about the Subway stop.

Winiecki's family complained to the hospital. After Whistleblower inquired about the matter Thursday, the manager of the ambulance unit called to explain what happened, family members said.

Prevost said no policies were violated and Winiecki's care wasn't compromised.

The ambulance was running as a "medical transport," stopping at signals and without flashing lights or sirens, because "Code 3" is reserved for patients with "unstable vital signs or there is imminent loss of life or limb," he said.

Winiecki said that North Memorial's explanation made him feel a bit better, but he and his wife are still irritated by the driver's priorities.

"I would hate to have her have that accident," said Yvonne Winiecki, who has been married to Jerrold for 36 years. "I would have really, really been upset had my husband lost his life."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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