- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

The Office of the D.C. Medical Examiner has determined that a Mount Rainier woman's death while in police custody last month was unrelated to treatment she received from paramedics or police.

Dr. Jonathan L. Arden, the city's chief medical examiner, said heightened adrenaline stemming from an episode of "agitated delirium" caused the death of Geneva McGowan.

Mrs. McGowan, 56, of the 4300 block of Eastern Avenue, was driving home from her secretarial job at the Washington Hospital Center about 6:30 a.m. July 10, when she got out of her car at 22nd and Varnum streets NE and began walking aimlessly through the street.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel were called and discovered Mrs. McGowan talking on a cellular telephone and acting combative and irrational. When an emergency worker tried to help her, Mrs. McGowan struck the man in the face, breaking his glasses.

According to a fire department special report on the incident, the woman walked away from the emergency workers and tried to jump on the hood of a dump truck, which swerved to miss her. She then jumped on the hood of a slow-moving car. She rolled off and fell to the ground.

Rescue workers called police, who subdued and handcuffed Mrs. McGowan.

Paramedics found nothing wrong with her.

They feared Mrs. McGowan was suffering from a mental condition and might become violent. Police officers put Mrs. McGowan in the back of a squad car and transported her to D.C. General Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Police said Mrs. McGowan complained of difficulty breathing on the way to the hospital and went into cardiac arrest.

Hospital workers briefly revived Mrs. McGowan, but she died a short time later.

The initial speculation was that Mrs. McGowan's delirium stemmed from a diabetic attack. The paramedics involved filed reports saying they had tested Mrs. McGowan's blood sugar using "dex stix" after seeing a pendant she was wearing indicating she was a diabetic.

Dr. Arden said he couldn't determine what caused the delirium, but ruled out a diabetic attack and said no illegal drugs were found in her system.

Before the cause of death was revealed, some department medics had expressed surprise that the dex stix were used. Dex stix are strips of paper chemically treated to change color to indicate ranges of blood-sugar levels when a drop of blood is placed on them. Medics match the color against a corresponding chart to arrive at a reading.

Kenneth Lyons, president of the union that represents the medics, said the department had more modern "glucometers" in storage that give numeric readings of blood-sugar levels. He said the department didn't begin actively distributing the glucometers until the day after Mrs. McGowan's death.

Mr. Lyons said the agency has to "take patient care and the liability of patient care more seriously."

"They dodged a bullet on this one. The next one they might not be so lucky."

Dr. Fernando Daniels, the department's medical director, said through a spokesman that the department had begun distributing the glucometers in June.

The police officers who transported Mrs. McGowan were placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of the incident, but both have returned to active duty. The medics involved remained on duty throughout the investigation.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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