published Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

EMS driver charged with reckless driving

A Walker County, Ga., paramedic has been charged with reckless driving after crashing into an oncoming car and flipping his ambulance while on duty.

Georgia State Patrol began to investigate two weeks ago after 22-year-old Gerald Zigner crossed the center line on U.S. Highway 27 and the ambulance he was driving struck a Kia going in the opposite direction. At the time of the crash, Zigner was making a nonemergency trip to Floyd County with a patient inside.

State troopers finished their investigation Sunday, concluding that Zigner fell asleep while behind the wheel, said Sgt. Tommy Sturdivan, with the Georgia State Patrol. Zigner was charged with reckless driving and driving on the wrong side of the road, Sturdivan said.

A witness who was driving behind the ambulance claimed that Zigner was across the center line for about 11⁄2 miles, which was one of the reasons he was charged, Sturdivan said.

Zigner posted a $2,700 bond and was released Monday night after turning himself in to Floyd County jail, according to the Floyd sheriff’s office.

Zigner declined to comment and referred questions to Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn.

Ashburn said the state can’t prove Zigner was asleep. Tests are being run to see if Zigner might have had a medical condition that resulted in the crash, Ashburn said.

“[Zigner] says he can’t remember what happened at all,” Ashburn said.

Once the medical tests are complete, and if Zigner’s health isn’t a problem, he will be required to go through a driver’s education course before he can drive again, Ashburn said. He is out of work on medical leave right now, Ashburn said.

Zigner, who was hired by Walker County Emergency Services three months ago, has been driving ambulances for Angel Services, a private ambulance service, for several years and has an “excellent driving record,” Ashburn said.

As Zigner waits for the tests to be completed, his father, Ralph, said he is miserable because he can’t do what he loves.

He said his son has wanted to be a paramedic since high school and dropped everything else to attend health classes to get where he is today.

“This is his life,” Ralph Zigner said. “That’s what he wanted to be.”

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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rolando said...

Coordinator Ashburn is not doing Zigner any favors by stating the state cannot prove Zigner fell asleep, even though it is probably true. And Zigner is better off pleading overwork or something caused him to fall asleep; better that than the alternative -- the idea that he purposely drove 1 1/2 miles on the wrong side of the road causing a head-on collision.

October 20, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.
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