Beaufort County man steals ambulance from Beaufort Memorial emergency entrance

info@islandpacket.comJune 19, 2013 

A Beaufort Memorial Hospital patient stole an ambulance Tuesday, driving against Ribaut Road traffic for nearly a mile before he was stopped, police say.

Clifton McNeill, 34, of St. Helena Island had been taken to the hospital by EMS for an undisclosed "medical reason," according to the Beaufort Police Department.

At about 5:10 p.m., he removed his I.V., left a treatment room and forced open the emergency room exit, according to a police news release. Wearing only sweat pants, he approached the ambulance and asked a crew member in the back of the vehicle to give him a ride home.

When the crew member came out of the ambulance to talk to him, McNeill got in and drove away, according to the release.

Beaufort County public information officer Joy Nelson said no one else was in the ambulance during McNeill's ride, but only because a female crew member also working in the back made it out before McNeill took off. Nelson said the crew member exited when her partner realized what McNeill was about to do and alerted her, Nelson said.

McNeill drove into oncoming traffic for about a mile, to the intersection of Hermitage and Ribaut roads, before being blocked and stopped by Beaufort police, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deputies and additional EMS personnel, the release said.

McNeill was removed from the ambulance after struggling with officers and Beaufort County EMS workers. Police subdued him with a stun gun.

McNeill was returned to the emergency room, where he again attempted to resist officers but "was kept under control," the release said.

No injuries or damage were reported.

McNeill was still in the hospital Wednesday afternoon. Charges could be filed, pending the outcome of his medical evaluation, police say.

Beaufort County public information officer Joy Nelson said the ambulance's engine was running when it was stolen -- normal protocol because of the time it takes to boot up the ambulances' systems after it is restarted. Nelson said EMS crews often have to quickly leave the hospital to respond to a call and that the systems need to be operating in such instances.

County EMS director Donna Ownby is considering antitheft devices on the older ambulances in the EMS fleet to prevent similar incidents, Nelson said. She added that the newest vehicle in the fleet has such devices, and three others are to be retrofitted with them later this year.

Attempts to reach a spokeswoman at Beaufort Memorial Hospital were unsuccessful.

Tuesday's incident marks the second time in about 17 months that a patient has made off in an emergency vehicle down Ribaut Road.

In February 2012, a Beaufort-Port Royal firetruck was stolen as its crew answered a call at an apartment complex near Naval Hospital Beaufort.

Sumter resident Kalvin Hunt, 26, is accused of stealing the firetruck parked at the Laurel Hill apartments on Ribaut Road. Authorities say Hunt drove it down Ribaut Road, striking and killing 28-year-old Port Royal resident Justin Nicholas Miller before crashing into woods near the building that once was home to Ribaut Lanes bowling alley.

Hunt had escaped from a veterans affairs officer at the Naval Hospital and was naked when he stole the firetruck. He currently awaits trial for murder charges related to the incident.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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