News

Police missed stroke signs after man hits cars, family alleges

Palo Alto officer ticketed disoriented man who later died from brain bleeding

When William Brian Bedwell left his Palo Alto apartment on the morning of April 14, he kissed his wife and headed off to work. He seemed fine, his wife, Lorenza Moro, said. But while driving to his job as a senior scientist at SRI International, Bedwell, 63, had a hemorrhagic stroke on the right side of his brain. He struck three cars on El Camino Real and kept going.

When police arrived, witnesses said he appeared to have trouble keeping his balance and bumped into an officer several times and into a vehicle, according to a witness statement in a police report.

The witness -- and police -- noted that Bedwell showed signs he was "extremely disoriented and slightly confused," according to the police report. But Palo Alto police did not have a medical team evaluate him. Instead, they issued him a citation and had a tow-truck driver take him to work.

By the time he walked in the door at SRI, security and employees recognized something was severely wrong with Bedwell, and they called for an ambulance. Three days after surgery at Stanford Hospital, Bedwell never awoke. He died from his severe brain injury, his sister, Dr. Penelope Friedman, said.

Now Friedman and Moro are speaking out about a tragedy they say might have been averted if police had called emergency medical personnel. And they worry that this kind of alleged oversight could lead to innocent people dying if an impaired driver is returned to the road.

In a May 16 letter to Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, Police Chief Dennis Burns, several other police officials and police auditors, Friedman outlined her concerns and questioned officers' training:

"One can logically conclude that as my brother was discussing the events of that morning with the attending police officers, waiting for the tow truck to tow his car away, filling out forms, having his driver's license information taken and being arrested and told to attend court in the near future ... he was also continuing to bleed into his brain and moving closer and closer to his imminent death while none of the five police officers involved realized that they really had a very serious medical emergency on their hands in addition to a series of traffic accidents. I am appalled that this could happen in your community."

Police Lt. Zach Perron said the department is reviewing the incident in its entirety and is reaching out to the family.

"Any time someone loses their life it's a tragic situation. We are very sorry to learn about what happened to Mr. Bedwell, and our hearts go out to his family, coworkers and friends," Perron said.

Identifying strokes is a part of standard first-aid training every officer receives. California Peace Officers Standards and Training requires officers to pass first-aid training and have updated instruction every three years. Palo Alto has a higher threshold and requires updated training every two years, he said. But Perron cautioned that stroke symptoms can be subtle. Some are obvious; others are not.

"When someone is in obvious need, we will always summon medical aid," he added.

But Moro and Friedman said the signs that something was wrong were obvious. The alleged police oversights are "unacceptable," Moro said. She pointed to the police report and that police had issued a referral for the Department of Motor Vehicles to test Bedwell's driving ability. Just days after he died, she received a notice from the DMV notifying her husband that his license had been either suspended or revoked -- she could not recall which -- because he didn't appear for the driving test.

Perron confirmed that officers issued a notice of priority reexamination, which required Bedwell to go to the DMV and pass an updated driver's test to ensure he was fit to drive.

"We will check that DMV knows that he is deceased," Perron said.

Bedwell also received a citation for a misdemeanor hit-and-run and was placed under private-person arrest by a woman whose car he struck, Perron said. He was released on his own recognizance near the accident scene and was scheduled to appear in court. That court date has been canceled by the police department since learning of his death, Perron said.

Friedman said the kind of stroke Bedwell had in his right parietal lobe is famous for the kinds of symptoms he exhibited. The side of the body affected by the stroke is the opposite of where the brain side where the stroke occurred. In his case, the stroke caused "left special hemi-neglect," by which victims lose sense of their left side. Although they can still see and hear with their left eye and ear, they have no spatial sense on that side. Bedwell reportedly said he heard crashing sounds, but he was not aware that he had hit the three cars, she said.

"He couldn't figure out where they were coming from, and he just kept going," she said.

Bedwell was traveling northbound on El Camino Real in his silver Subaru Legacy when he sideswiped a Kia Sorento driven by a 28-year-old woman near Medical Foundation Way.

As he reached the University Avenue underpass, Bedwell's vehicle struck the embankment, causing damage to bushes and trees. The Subaru was dragging pieces of trees as it continued north, according to a witness.

The Subaru crossed all northbound lanes and sideswiped a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu driven by a 33-year-old woman who was preparing to make a left-hand turn onto Quarry Road. It then struck the right rear of a Honda CRV driven by a 48-year-old man who was also in the turning lane.

None of the occupants were injured, according to police.

The woman who was driving the first car Bedwell hit caught up with his vehicle at the intersection of Sand Hill Road and shouted for him to stop because he had hit the cars.

Bedwell immediately pulled to the right and stopped.

After arriving at SRI, Bedwell was taken by ambulance to Stanford Hospital, where a CAT scan showed an obvious bleed, Friedman said. The extensive brain damage led to his death three days later.

Bedwell had no history of drinking or drugs or confusion, Friedman said. He did have a prosthetic heart valve and took Coumadin, a blood thinner. Hospital tests showed the Coumadin levels were not abnormally high, she said.

Moro said Bedwell showed no stroke symptoms when he kissed her goodbye that morning.

"He prepared breakfast, and he opened the door. When I was kissing him goodbye, I was coming from his left. There was nothing to suggest there was a problem from the left," she said.

The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office has listed Bedwell's cause of death as a stroke caused by the accident, but Friedman disputed that finding. The accidents, symptoms and witness statements all point to his having a stroke while driving, she said.

As doctors tried to determine the cause of his stroke, Moro said she found a policeman's business card in a bag of Bedwell's belongings at the hospital. She left the officer a voicemail message to find out what had happened.

"He never called back -- he or anyone else. It's not about wanting to get anything out of this. We feel what happened was unacceptable, and we don't want this to happen to anyone else," Moro said.

Comments

Posted by Katie, a resident of Downtown North
on May 22, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Sad. With our older population this will occur more often.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm

How long was the window between the time the police officer was dealing with this man, and the time he arrived at the hospital? No one seems to be saying he would not have died if the officer had had him transported to the hospital from the accident scene.

So, we are left with question--did the officer overlook any of his training?

And, of course, just how many medical problems should an officer be expected to identify when at an accident scene?


Posted by Scary, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm

What a terribly sad situation. 63 is not very old, which may be partly why police and witnesses did not recognize his symptoms as a stroke. Certainly the article makes it sound like the symptoms were obvious, but if five officers and multiple witnesses did not recognize the medical situation, I have to believe it was not that obvious. I do think it's odd that after hitting three separate cars they let him go, but maybe they thought he had poor vision or Alzheimer's and that the DMV would identify it with the re-test.

The Coumadin was absolutely the cause - brain bleeds are the number one risk of taking Coumadin. It's very suspicious that the coroner found the accident caused the stroke - since when do minor traffic altercations cause strokes in 63 year olds?

I completely understand the frustration and upset by the family for what must seem like a preventable loss. I suspect the actual fault lies in the Coumadin management (which can be very difficult!), not the police at the scene of an odd traffic collision, though. My sincerest condolences to the family and friends of this man who was taken far too young. May he rest in peace.


Posted by jean, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm

How sad....you think that the police would have had someone evaluate him right on the spot. It is not up to the police to send him on his way via tow truck...he should have been taken to the hospital right away if no liquor was on his breath.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 22, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Since when are police officers considered doctors? Even doctors can at times miss these things.
The question is whether the police followed procedure in this type of situation. And the situation is sad and upsetting for sure, but there are limits to their jobs.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2014 at 9:02 pm

When a teenager and an older woman drove into our car parked in the street in 2 separate occasions, there were at least 2 ambulances and 2 fire trucks here, not counting cops in cars and motorcycles.

Someone screwed up. Shame on the officer for not returning phone calls.

What sayeth our fine city officials? Oh, that's right. They only want our "input" but how dare we expect a response form them.


Posted by businessdecision, a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2014 at 7:12 am

Very sad. We obviously have to work on awareness. Balance problems should surely have been a clear sign even to people who don't know about "neglect" on the affected side in some stroke victims.
I also think it can't be right that the accident preceded the stroke and agree that Coumadin is a likely cause [also agree about the challenges of Coumadin management). Maybe people should wear Coumadin bracelets.


Posted by Sosumi , a resident of Community Center
on May 23, 2014 at 9:12 am

I hope Bedwell's family sues the hell out of PAPD. All the signs were there,the officers were trained to recognize the signs, but continued to detain him, costing Bedwell time, blood, and brain cells. The officers should be charged with manslaughter at the least.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 9:18 am

Can they state how he spoke when dealing with officers? After all, a woman had to make a citizen's arrest for hit and run - that was the first contact, not the police. "Confused" behavior by hit and run drivers must be typical (evasive, denying) and I don't think the police can be expected to summon medical personnel to each accident scene. But I am wondering what this man sounded like, if his family asserts he had the stroke prior to the accidents -


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 23, 2014 at 10:48 am

The lesson to be learned goes well beyond the Police department - it is difficult to detect mild stroke indications. I know I missed/overlooked the signs of a stroke - the stroke was identified the following day. Not only did I miss it but about 50 other close friends and relatives missed the signs - slightly slurred speech and slight loss of use of left foot. We all knew the person. In Mr. Bidwell's case the Police officers had never met the man before, making it more difficult to evaluate his physical condition - indications of change are important and I assume that is why the SRI employees were able to identify the problem. We can all learn something from this.


Posted by my2cents, a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

What strikes me as unusual is the multiple cars at different locations that he hit before he stopped. That should indicate calling for medical treatment and evaluation right away.

The police do a great job overall and it is too easy to be a "back seat driver" about situations which we are not at. And it certainly would not be good to call for medical help at every accident, I agree. But this one does seem to be an extreme case.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

I'm so sorry to hear of this tragedy!

Stroke symptoms can surely be subtle. I had a similar stroke in late 2012 while driving in Palo Alto, and was stopped by a Palo Alto police officer who asked me if I was aware I'd just hit some cars. When I said I wasn't, he immediately told me he thought I might have just had a small stroke and that I'd be getting a ride to the hospital immediately. I protested, saying I felt fine, but he insisted, and was even apologetic when he told me he needed to relieve me of my drivers license.

So, despite the fact that I didn't recognize my own hemi-neglect, I am here to report that a local police officer was directly responsible for me getting the medical attention I might not have had otherwise.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

I'm so sorry to hear of this tragedy!

Stroke symptoms can surely be subtle. I had a similar stroke in late 2012 while driving in Palo Alto, and was stopped by a Palo Alto police officer who asked me if I was aware I'd just hit some cars. When I said I wasn't, he immediately told me he thought I might have just had a small stroke and that I'd be getting a ride to the hospital immediately. I protested, saying I felt fine, but he insisted, and was even apologetic when he told me he needed to relieve me of my drivers license.

So, despite the fact that I didn't recognize my own hemi-neglect, I am here to report that a local police officer was directly responsible for me getting the medical attention I might not have had otherwise.


Posted by Palo Alto Lifer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2014 at 12:49 pm

It's easy to question the judgement of the officer in the field in retrospect. Confusion and disorientation are not localized classic stroke red flags like a facial droop. I don't think it's productive to call it an "alleged oversight" at this juncture. I'm glad the Police department is reviewing the situation, but let's not rush to judgement here.


Posted by Gordon, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I agree that the circumstances of the multiple car hits, erratic driving direction, lack of responsiveness to hitting cars, are all immediate cause for medical evaluation. I don't need medical degree or first-aid training to know that. This is a common sense failure by PAPD.


Posted by pearel, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The department "...is reaching out to the family." How are they doing that? They never even returned his wife's phone call. "Reaching out to ..." is such an overused, empty, industry buzz-phrase.


Posted by ndnorth, a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm

All the police has to do is thinking that there are other possibilities other than the ones that immediately occurred to them. They were being mindlessly officious. If the officer noted that Mr. Bedwell seemed confused why would the police not call medical help. Regardless of the circumstancies why was it not obvious to the police that someone extremely disoriented and confused needs not tickets and learn how to drive but medical help? What the police needs is thinking, just that and not assume- why would they not link an
uncharecteristic string of accidents to a medical emergency? Mr. Bedwell had a DMV record, the police has immediate access to it-did they not notice that something was amiss? They had all the information showing Mr. Bidwell knew how to drive and was not intoxicated. What else can be wrong?


Posted by ndnorth, a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2014 at 9:17 pm

One good thinking officer recognized Frank's symptoms. Great. I hope others can learn.


Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2014 at 12:07 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

I would think hitting cars and dragging parts of trees along El Camino would be a pretty good sign that something happened in the brain. Not knowing he did it, pretty good sign. Not smelling alcohol and/or deciding that alcohol or drugs were involved, yet the car was all over the road, might have been a pretty good sign of something happening in the brain. Still, I wasn't there, and I am so very sorry that this poor man went out this way. As for more and more of this happening with the aging of America, perhaps, but within one year at work, three of my male colleagues died suddenly: one was late 30s when an artery near the heart tore, one was 53 with a heart attack, and one was a 49-year old in fantastic shape with heart fibrillation.


Posted by It can happen to anyone, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2014 at 10:56 am

I worked with a woman who had a stroke at the age of 30. Her neurologist felt that her oral contraceptives ( low dose) may have been the cause. She was in rehab for two years, and was never able to return to work.

I also had a veterinarian who, in excellent physical condition, suffered a stroke while driving home from the gym, and died. He was 32 years young.

These things are situational.


Posted by Why??, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Why is it that every time something bad or tragic happens, it has to be somebody's "fault"? Why can't we as a society just accept that bad things happen to good people? We can't know that the outcome may have been different. Yes, it is a tragedy, and can happen to people at ANY age, but I hate it when right away, people are looking to make someone "pay" for a natural event. Blame it on age. Blame it on the police. Blame it on the city. And first and foremost, blame it on someone with deep pockets!


Posted by Because......, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm

This was preventable! The PAPD Chief insists that his officers are trained to recognize the signs of a stroke, and that their training is updated every two years. The officers should have known in that case that time wasted is brain cells killed. This information is even printed in newspapers and magazines, as well as in public service announcements, not just police training.

When Mr Bedwell stumbled into officers repeatedly, could not maintain his balance, complained of no feeling on his left side, fell to the ground, all in the absence of alcohol on his breath, the officers should have stopped interviewing him and called for an ambulance. They wasted two hours of his LIFE, which ultimately may have cost him his life...it cost him too much bleeding and too many brain cells by the time the poor man got to work in the tow truck. People at SRI recognized something was wrong immediately and called paramedics, but by then it was far too late. These co-workers were not trained in recognizing stroke symptoms as the police officers involved were!

I hope that Mr Bedwell's family sees that these officers are prosecuted. What they did was, at the least, commit involuntary manslaughter.


Posted by Why??, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 24, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Because... you make my point perfectly - supporting our "ambulance-chasing - make a quick buck (or a few million bucks)" - all on the backs of the tax-payers. Again, a tragedy, but could be many mitigating factors. Police are not doctors. Sad.


Posted by Scary, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Involuntary manslaughter? Or you kidding me? Police are trained to recognize OBVIOUS medical symptoms, they are not trained as medical professionals or diagnosticians.

Mr. Bedwell's medical emergency was not a classic stroke, where a portion of the brain is completely blocked due to a clot, it was a brain bleed - leaking arteries/hemorrhage due to his blood being too thin from his Coumadin medication (which, ironically, is meant to prevent strokes and heart attacks). A brain bleed can have more subtle symptoms since some blood may still be getting through. He may have bumped into someone and then seemed completely fine.

If his symptoms were so obvious, why didn't any of the five officers or the many witnesses think there was a serious problem? If there are witnesses who claim to have noticed a serious problem that the police missed, THEY are the ones that should be charged with involuntary manslaughter because they saw a problem and did nothing. I hope these "witnesses" are questioned very carefully.

WE WERE NOT THERE! Stop persecuting the PAPD officers that were there and probably already feel terrible that they did not notice or recognize the seriousness of Mr. Bedwell's condition. For what it's worth, the survival rate of a brain bleed is only 20% - significant chance Mr. Bedwell would not have survived no matter how quickly he got to the hospital.

Keep in mind the PA Weekly and it's "sources" are not testifying under oath, so the reality of how vague or obvious Mr. Bedwell's symptoms may have been could be quite different from what people say "after the fact" when it is a news story.

Controversy sells! Showing off how smart we are (in hindsight) makes people feel important. Hold these same people accountable for doing nothing to help and I bet they will disappear into the shadows overnight.

I feel very badly for Mr. Bedwell's family and friends who have suffered a great loss. My mother is on Coumadin and it is a constant challenge to keep the levels right so she does not have a stroke from her blood insufficiently thinned or a brain bleed from being too thin.

I don't know if the PAPD officers were negligent, but I will wait to hear what comes out of the investigation before blaming the cops for a difficult to diagnose medical problem.


Posted by What are you thinking? Oh your NOT!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Oh wow, Palo Alto Lifer, Chris, you need help! Let's hope you and/or your family do not have to be subjected to such inadequacy as what transpired by the PAPD! Why wouldn't these officers (5 of them????) call the paramedics if they are not medically trained as "SCARY" claims....just say it "SCARY" you are as inadequate in your ability to reason as the PAPD in their ability to analyze the situation. At the LEAST, one of the FIVE should have called medically trained personnel to rule out ANY medical condition (spinal injury, concussion, let alone bleeding of the brain) but no....let's arrest the culprit. Give me a break people, be reassured that the 5 whatever individuals that showed up that day are not feeling remorse for their LACK of action...they are still out there pulling in a pay check, telling their cop jokes in the locker room, and probably can't remember Brian's name. Who ever thinks that these individuals followed or even remembered their training, needs to be evaluated. They definitely called for back up...one paramedic should have been dispatch in stead of the handcuffs...no brainer PAPD!


Posted by Zach Leigh, a resident of Stanford
on May 26, 2014 at 10:09 am

Eggs. Act. Lee.

One would think that one of the five officers, trained and re-trained to recognize such would have called for an ambulance, not sent the poor man on his way in such a state.


Posted by CHARLES, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I am sorry to say PAPD should feel ashamed for what happened: there are no excuses for them as you don't need to be a doctor to understand someone is not feeling ok while he looks "disoriented" and having trouble in keeping his balance, as well as bouncing into the officer writing the report. Why PAPD don's tell Palo Alto residents they did a big mistake. what would have happened if Mr. Bedwell would have gone home, he would have taken another car and drive again unsafely into other cars killing other people ! It is clear they'll never be able to bring Mr. Bedwell back and recover his family sorrow, but they should be honest. That's why I am asking: should be feel safe ??? By chance I came to know PAPD never reached Mr. Bedwell's wife, while they wrote they were trying to do that, but do you know several journalists got immediately hold of her just after reading the first newspaper article. Why have the journalists been so fast in reaching her and our Police Dept. didn't manage to do it after such long time ! I think this is a further proof they don't need just a better medical training, but something more. It is really a shame !


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