Did the Big Dig claim its second victim this week?
Yesterday the Boston Herald weighed in with an exclusive: a report by Michele McPhee, O’Ryan Johnson and Casey Ross that a 64-year-old man who’d suffered a heart attack died in an ambulance that was stuck in gridlocked traffic on Wednesday. The Herald’s lead:
An ambulance racing to get a heart attack victim to the hospital was snagged in Big Dig tunnel gridlock, turning what should have been a four-minute trip into a desperate 24-minute ordeal that ended with the man’s death, public safety and transportation sources said.
It was a nice hit for the Herald, showing that the tabloid is still in the game even though the much-larger Boston Globe, smelling Pulitzer, has been flooding the zone. (Media Nation: Your first stop for hoary clichés!)
Today the Herald follows up and the Globe splashes in. Among other things, we learn that the victim, Bruce Olsen, was a 64- or 65-year-old former Norfolk County commissioner (why do the papers never seem to agree?) who had recently been arrested in Florida on charges of selling marijuana. And you will not be surprised to learn that the two accounts differ on the importance of yesterday’s story.
Each paper makes its case on the basis of quotes by Tom Tinlin, acting commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department. In the Herald story, by McPhee, Tinlin says:
When you have an event like this, even though you know you did everything right, there is a real personal sense of frustration. Everyone understands how gravely ill this man was, but there is a real desire to make sure we do everything we can to make sure traffic flows in a safe manner and to make sure emergency vehicles have the access they need.
Nobody wants anything like this to happen again.
Here, on the other hand, is Tinlin talking to the Globe’s Raja Mishra:
Any time there’s a loss of life, it’s a tragedy, but it’s kind of a stretch to attribute this to the traffic situation. The plan worked that day.
Well, now. What are we to think? The Herald never directly asserts that Olsen died because of the traffic delay. In fact, a modern ambulance staffed by well-trained paramedics can be as good a place to be treated for a heart attack as a hospital emergency room — and, as McPhee reports, officials say they actually pulled over twice so they could concentrate on treating Olsen, thus adding to the delay.
But is there any question that Olsen was treated differently because of Big Dig-related traffic delays? Not really. It’s a serious enough situation that Mayor Tom Menino has ordered an investigation.
Bottom line: Even though Olsen should have arrived at the hospital sooner than he did, he almost certainly didn’t die because of the Big Dig. But unless the traffic problem is solved soon (unlikely, to say the least), someone will.