Firefighters unknowingly injected patients with wrong drug

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PEORIA, Ariz. -- To cover up his crime and addiction, a Valley paramedic broke into numerous fire stations to steal a pain killer and replace it with another drug.

The crime spree lasted two years and during that time, countless patients unknowingly got the wrong medication. But as 3TV has uncovered, the city kept quiet about it, leaving one family to wonder why.

Karyn Eubanks has fond memories of her mother, Lois Trumbo.

"My mom was a super person," Eubanks said. "She had a great sense of humor."

But Eubanks feels Matt Rich, a former paramedic with the Peoria Fire Department, contributed to her mom's untimely death.

"He set everything in motion for her life to be shortened," she said.

On September 25, 2010, paramedics responded to an emergency call at Trumbo's home. At that time, Trumbo was 79 years old and had fallen. Court records obtained by 3TV show that instead of giving her morphine to ease the pain, firefighters unknowingly injected her with epinephrine, a drug commonly given to treat allergic reactions.

"The blood work showed that her heart, her blood pressure had shot up," Eubanks said.

The injection caused Trumbo's heart rate to skyrocket. Court records indicate giving an elderly woman like Trumbo epinephrine put her in a potentially life-threatening condition.

Eubanks feels, "He robbed her of quality of life."

Trumbo subsequently suffered a heart attack and died two years later. But at the time, no one knew anything criminal was involved.

"I didn't actually learn anything about this until the detective from the Peoria Police Department came to my home and asked if he could talk to me," Eubanks remembers.

A few months prior to the accidental injection, Peoria police had launched an investigation into its own fire department. Detectives zeroed in on Rich.

"Obviously, he was doing what he could to get away with it," said Amanda Jacinto, spokeswoman for Peoria police and fire departments.

Court documents reveal Rich spent two years going from fire station to fire station on a mission to steal morphine. In order to cover his tracks, he replaced the vials with epinephrine.

"Already there were a lot of security measures in place," Jacinto said. "This person was able to go around them."

From March 2008 to March 2010, Peoria firefighters had no idea they were giving patients the wrong medication.

"Putting his fellow firefighters and paramedics in a situation where they're doing their jobs to the best of their ability and this person made it so that they weren't giving the kind of care they thought they were giving," Jacinto explained.

"This is something that you hear out of a movie, a book, you know, not something that happens to your loved one," Eubanks said.

The detective testified that "there were over 30 suspected victims, possibly many more." He went on to tell the court he suspects Rich "engaged in this behavior when employed with Surprise Fire Department."

"I think that is a huge issue with this case as far as that broken trust with the individuals they work next to as well as the public," Jacinto said.

So why didn't the city of Peoria alert the public?

"It wasn't something that we felt needed to be put out as far as, we put it out if there's a public threat," Jacinto said. "As far as I know, all the individuals that were involved had been notified."

Eubanks wonders if there was another reason.

"I think it was swept under the rug and that's where it intended to keep it," she said.

Last month a judge sentenced Rich to three and a half years in prison for burglary and possessing narcotics. As for the possibility of this happening again at any of Peoria's fire stations, we're told security measures have been improved. Now, all Peoria fire stations are equipped with
surveillance cameras.

But for Eubanks, it will take more than that to restore her trust.

"If something were to happen where I needed help, I'm not so sure I would be quick to pick up the phone and call the Peoria Fire Department," she said. "I'd probably ask 911 if they could send somebody else out. I don't have a whole lot of respect for them anymore."

As for his motive, Rich told the court he was addicted to painkillers and used morphine to battle his withdrawals. We requested an interview with Rich, but he declined.

The Surprise Fire Department told us there is no record of Rich engaging in any criminal activity while employed there.