A 54-year-old Harrison man collapsed during Saturday’s Sleepy Hollow Halloween 10K and was apparently declared dead shortly after his arrival at Phelps Memorial Hospital.
The man's identity and more information on the incident have not yet been released by Sleepy Hollow police, a spokesperson from the hospital, or race director Kristen Idalski.
The runner's collapse happened on Fremont Street in the Sleepy Hollow Manor neighborhood, where neighbors and fellow runners rushed to his aid.
“We felt he was still alive after falling but he didn’t have a big pulse,” said Kristen Lankester of Fremont Road, who, with her husband Chuck, was among the first to take a role in trying to save the man's life.
Lankester estimated it took 20 minutes for emergency aid to arrive at the scene.
She contrasted that to reports she had heard that there was EMS support for the race just down the road at Philipse Manor Train Station.
The man had, according to what runners behind the man told the Lankesters, gasped and looked wobbly. Then he collapsed, hitting his head on the way down. He lay prone, with his head on the lawn and body on the street.
Lankester and others on the scene figured he had suffered some sort of arrest, but couldn't assume anything about his medical history. Lankester said he was bleeding from a cut on his head but wasn't losing much blood.
Neighbors and runners who stopped kept asking passing runners if there were a doctor or nurse among them; finally a doctor runner did happen by and started aggressively doing CPR on the man.
Multiple 911 calls were made, neighbors said.
As the minutes ticked by, runners moved everyone to one side of the road and the samaritan doctor “started desperately doing CPR on the spot.” Lankester said the doctor said, “he’s fired up,” meaning he had gotten the heart rate back up which he continued to do for many minutes.
Chuck Lankester pulled his car out because he thought he would take the man to the hospital himself, but the doctor ruled it out since he wouldn’t be able to continue CPR en route.
Another neighbor just a few doors down on Fremont, Erin McCarthy, witnessed the whole scene, albeit at a bit further back to shield her young children, and found herself shocked. “We are completely outraged by the horrible response time from the police and ambulance," she said.
It was an epic fail by our police and emergency responders. People kept calling frantically and on our third call, the police officer told my husband that the ambulance responders were all volunteers so it takes them much longer. Can this be true? We have no paid responders? And we live so close to Phelps, no one could have been dispatched from there?
After what neighbors felt was 15 minutes, help was apparently near but lost in the Manor, according to both Lankester and McCarthy. They said they heard police leading the ambulance there went the wrong way down Fremont.
Lankester speculated there were any number of factors at work on what was surely a complicated day: roads were blocked for the race making traveling more complicated and clearly there some sort of communication problem. Still, “it’s not so uncommon that a runner will drop during these races,” said Lankester, who was stunned that there wouldn’t be medical assistance on shorter call for such an event.
A third Sleepy Hollow Manor resident, who did not want to use his name, explained that geography itself was not on their side: "It may also be worth noting that that's quite possibly the worst intersection in the entire village for an emergency. Fremont crosses Hemlock no less than three times. You'd think dispatchers familiar with the area would know to be very specific, but at the same time it's not surprising that the ball got dropped somewhere along the line."
This resident said that the first ambulance witnesses heard and saw was the Sleepy Hollow Ambulance. They saw it enter the Manor at the northern entrance, "which is the right place to go if you think you're headed to the northeast intersection of Fremont and Hemlock." He recounted that a few minutes later another ambulance appeared at that same entrance. Neither one with a police escort. "The routes both took seem consistant with dispatching confusion," he said.
Finally, police and EMS arrived—Lankester noted two units from Sleepy Hollow and Ossining, the first a blue van with lights—who immediately gave the man oxygen and “other treatments."
From there, he was transported to Phelps.
Lankester said she had been working with other runners to help to find the man’s name and information. Race director Idalski had been back and forth with Lankester on the phone and put the concerned neighbor in touch with the man’s wife.
Lankester said she was the person who called the wife to tell her what happened and that he had been transported to Phelps.
The Lankesters were now personally invested in this man’s fate; the couple went to the hospital to check in on the man about an hour or an hour-and-a-half after the incident. There they said they came across the man’s wife, who told them he had died.
“It’s important we all be educated on how to handle these things” is a lesson Lankester said she walked away with on Saturday. She and her husband both think there should be some sort of emergency preparedness protocol in place for villagers.
In the meantime, she plans on immediately signing up for CPR training with the Red Cross and urges others to do the same. If help isn't coming, she said, we'd better be ready to help each other.
“Everyone made a heroic effort,” Lankester said, “but it would have probably been better if he got professional help sooner.”
According to the Rivertown Runners website, the group that coordinated this Third Annual event with more than 1,000 participants, "The course is challenging, scenic and fun!"
Runners will start on Beekman Ave heading East towards Broadway/Rte 9 turning onto Washington and then down Valley St. From there the course takes you down to College Ave and then up Cortlandt back to Beekman heading West (towards the Hudson river). From Beekman turn right onto Andrews lane. Follow Andrews to Pocantico and turn left down Pocantico into the Manors.
Many participants wear costumes for this festive race, and there are water stations throughout. For a map of the race route click here.
Stay tuned for updates on this story.