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Riders forego helmets, fracture skulls

January 02, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

GLAMIS — Emergency medical technicians at the Imperial Sand Dunes celebrated New Year's Eve trying to give aide to a man who was yelling and fighting with them.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management emergency medical technicians and paramedics from other agencies were called to the Cement Flats just west of Gecko Road and found two motorcycles and two men sprawled on the ground from a head-on collision.

Witnesses said the two decided to celebrate the New Year by riding their bikes, but their bikes had no headlights and they were not wearing helmets when their heads hit.

The more seriously injured patient, Kevin L., argued and tried to resist medical attention. Kevin smelled of alcohol. His full name was not available.


"Everything hurts. I'm begging you to stop," Kevin yelled as he spit blood at and fought the five emergency medical personnel taping him to a backboard.

It's not uncommon for someone with head or internal injuries to become combative, BLM emergency medical technician Mike Martin said.

Kevin L. fractured his skull at the dunes on Thanksgiving, and also fractured his skull a few weeks earlier while not wearing a helmet, Martin said.

That type of injury adds up, National Parks Service spokesman Roger Scott said.

"We can't do anything to stop him from self-destructive behavior. This kid is risking his life if he rides a bike again," Martin said

Kevin was combative in the ambulance all the way to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley. Once there, hospital personnel decided to use succinylcholine, a paralyzing drug, on him. He was life-flighted to San Diego later that morning, Martin said.

Another call was for an assault victim in "The Hole" at Competition Hill. The Hole is the scene of the rowdiest parties in the dunes. It's terrain and bowl-shape make it difficult for officers and medical personnel to patrol.

Going into The Hole in a marked vehicle is not safe, Martin said. Generally, emergency medical personnel won't go into The Hole without law enforcement.

"I've gone in there alone to get someone and had people throw bottles at me," he said.

A final call came to the Cahuilla ranger station at 4:15 a.m. A girl with asthma came to the station complaining she was having difficulty breathing, Martin said.

She was sitting at a campsite where people were burning magnesium. Magnesium burns really bright — and toxic, he said. It's commonly burned in the sand dunes.

The BLM's El Centro office is unique because it is where the bureau has the greatest number of problems. The office gets the highest level of visitation and, by nature, has higher medical emergency needs, chief BLM ranger Felicia Probert said.

The BLM's EL Centro office has one paramedic, five emergency medical technicians and seven emergency first responders. John Unger is the lone paramedic and the emergency medical service coordinator. Emergency medical technicians have the second highest level of training.

When not rescuing injured people in the dunes, the EMS team prepares for worst-case scenarios.

In one of those scenarios, a vehicle plows into a crowd, similar to an incident that happened Monday, where a truck flipped and landed on the edge of a crowd, Unger said.

"We predict that a similar truck will roll over into a crowd one day or another," Martin said. "We end up trying to prepare for a 15- to 30-person incident."

The team also prepares for a fireball or explosion, Martin said. At night, people in the dunes like to throw gasoline on a fire. When they throw gasoline, there's always a trail leading back to the person who threw it. The team has to be prepared for burn victims, he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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