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Crime & Courts

Law suit filed in choking death Carol Stream battalion chief said he was suspended for refusing to cover up

CAROL STREAM – The story of a Carol Stream Fire Protection District employee who claims he is facing termination for refusing to cover up negligence took a turn last week.

The incident Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles said he was asked to keep quiet about will go to court, as the family of a woman whose death was caused by a choking incident has filed suit against the village of Carol Stream and one of the paramedics who attended to her.

"The family has been looking for the truth," said Ryan Murphy, an attorney representing relatives of the deceased, 81-year-old Armida Nonneman. "It's clear they weren't told the truth and they've hired us to pursue it."

The wrongful-death lawsuit, filed Feb. 7, claims the village "willfully and wantonly breached its duty" when former Carol Stream Fire Protection District paramedic Carey Zabran responded to a call that reported Nonneman was choking on food and could not breathe Aug. 25, 2012.

Zabran attempted to intubate the woman, the suit says, while the food was lodged in her throat. Zabran allegedly was informed by off-duty paramedic and former Melrose Park Fire Department Chief Rick Beltrame the food needed to be removed beforehand, according to the complaint.

The suit also claims Zabran knew intubating when the food was lodged would push the blockage further into the airway, worsening Nonneman's condition.

The coroner’s report said the paramedic reported intubation was successful and there didn’t appear to be any evidence that the obstruction remained after the paramedic's efforts.

The suit claims that by not following procedure, Zabran worsened the situation and caused Nonneman’s death three days later of anoxic brain injury at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

Attorney Paul McMahon, who also represents the Nonnemans, said while he wasn’t sure what the family would pursue in damages, few wrongful death cases are resolved for less than $1 million.

"The family just wants to know what happened and how it happened," Murphy said. "[And] why wouldn't they want to pursue this and find out what happened, if the truth ultimately leads to [someone] taking responsibility."

That pursuit is made muddier by claims from Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles, who was suspended and relieved of his duties in September 2013 by District Chief Richard Kolomay. Gilles said the reason for his possible termination is because he refused to cover up Zabran’s alleged failure to follow protocol.

Gilles’ attorney, John Botti, said his client conducted an internal investigation on the matter and recommended Zabran be fired. Instead, she was told to sign a performance improvement plan and Gilles was directed to oversee her completion of the plan, which he later said was satisfactory despite a continued recommendation she be terminated.

Zabran eventually resigned and Gilles was asked to sign a similar plan. He refused, worried it would lead to his termination and that he might be signing something illegal.

Gilles’ fire district commission hearing is currently ongoing, according to his attorneys.

Fire district attorney Karl Ottosen said that, because the suit was not filed against the fire protection district itself, his ability to comment on the issue is limited. He said it might affect the proceedings and he was surprised it was filed last week and not after the evidence regarding Gilles was heard.

“It just seemed strange to me,” he said.

Suburban Life reporter Nathan Lurz and Suburban Life news editor Anna Schier contributed to this story.

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