Johnny Jardine in his bowling shirt, shortly before his death. "He loved bowling," his mother says.

An Errant Rescue

Debbie Jardine of Sun Lakes was preparing a dinner of liver and onions for her visiting grandson, Joey, on March 30, 1999. Joey had never had liver, and his doting grandmother was pleased to oblige.

"The phone rang about 6:45," Debbie recalls. "A lady comes on and says, 'Mrs. Jardine, this is the ASU police. Does your son Johnny have some kind of medical problem?' I told them he had epilepsy and diabetes. She put me on hold. She came back and told me that he had had a seizure and that they were taking him to Tempe St. Luke's Hospital."

Trips to the hospital to retrieve her 37-year-old son were nothing new for Debbie. Epilepsy had bedeviled Johnny since he nearly drowned when he was 3. But Johnny had persevered, undergoing two frontal lobectomies and employing a pharmaceutical cornucopia over the years to gain some control over the seizures that wracked his body. Johnny had been enrolled at ASU for eight months, and was doing well. He'd only had two seizures in the preceding year. He was feeling good about himself, with newfound purpose.

"My husband, John, didn't want to go to the hospital to get Johnny," Debbie continues. "So I was going. My grandson Joey said, 'Grandma, I'll go with you.' He was thinking we'd just pick up Uncle Johnny and come back home."

When Debbie and Joey arrived at Tempe St. Luke's, they were ushered into a tiny room. A doctor and a nursing supervisor came in. Debbie describes the atmosphere as "icy cold," and what occurred thereafter as an "interrogation."

"The doctor asked me did I know why Johnny would test positive for opiates. I said, 'You should just ask Johnny, because he knows better than anyone about the medication he's taking.' The doctor said to me, 'I can't ask him, he's dead.'"

The doctor told her that Johnny had suffered a "widowmaker" heart attack.

It was a devastating revelation, callously told, to a woman who had devoted her life to nurturing and providing some sense of normalcy and happiness to her disabled first-born. Now, gripped by grief, she had her 10-year-old grandson clinging to her in his own confusion and trepidation.

"I asked to see my son," she says. "They said I shouldn't, that he looked terrible. So they said to give them some time to get him ready.

"Joey and I walked in the room. Johnny was the color of your blue jeans. I kissed him on the forehead and I took the sheet back to hold his arms, and I saw the dark rings around his wrists. The nurse told me they were from tying off IVs."

It was one of many untruths Debbie would hear.

Someone from the hospital told Debbie that she could request an autopsy, but that she would have to pay for it. None was required because Johnny had died in the presence of medical personnel, she was told. Debbie demurred, saying that her son had suffered enough in his life.

But unbeknownst to the Jardines, an autopsy was performed.

The next day, Debbie took another call at her home from a pathologist at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.

"She told me, 'I want you to listen and listen very carefully to what I'm going to tell you. I see no real evidence of a heart attack. I'm suspicious that your son suffered excessive brutal force. There are areas of bruising and ligature marks.'"

Debbie asked what "ligature marks" meant.

"She said, 'Handcuffs,' and my heart just broke.

"I hung up the phone and I went in and woke my husband up. The question was, What should we do about this information? We decided we'd find out the truth."

That, of course, involves lawyers. The Jardines retained Michael Manning, the Phoenix attorney who won an $8.5 million settlement from Maricopa County over the death of jail inmate Scott Norberg. The Jardines have sued the hospital and the agencies involved in Johnny's "rescue," including ASU, the City of Tempe and Southwest Ambulance. They are seeking $20 million. They say it's not about the money, but holding people accountable and ensuring that another epileptic never suffers needlessly, as their son did.

According to the complaint filed by Manning, Johnny felt a seizure coming on as he sat in his evening geography class at ASU. He tried to leave the classroom. His classmates saw his distress; some recognized that he was suffering a seizure. One of them called 911 on her cell phone, and the dispatcher instructed the students not to restrain Johnny.

Emergency personnel arrived and found Johnny outside the classroom. They put him in a chair next to a window. He was disoriented. When Johnny stood up, the emergency medical technicians tripped his feet out from beneath him, restrained his arms and applied pressure to his back. An ASU Department of Public Safety officer handcuffed Johnny's wrists behind his back, put his knee in the middle of Johnny's back and pinned him down. An EMT straddled his back.

Johnny was 5-foot-10 and weighed 260 pounds. In the best cases, grand mal seizures leave the sufferer gasping for breath. The added weight on top of Johnny, the position of his arms and his obesity made it difficult for him to breathe.

Still handcuffed, Johnny was placed face down on a gurney. The handcuffs were not removed. He was cinched with straps, his face was jammed down securely into an airtight gurney pad. As Johnny was loaded into an ambulance, one EMT suggested that the handcuffs be removed and that Johnny be put onto his back. Others said not to bother. The ASU officer approached and asked if the handcuffs should be removed. The EMTs told him to go to the hospital to get his handcuffs. They had no key to release the cuffs; neither did the hospital.

EMTs did not attach a pulse oximeter to Johnny's finger, did not even hook up a cardiac monitor. En route to St. Luke's, the EMTs noticed that Johnny had no pulse and was not breathing. A cardiac monitor was finally employed, and it confirmed that Johnny had no pulse, the suit states.

Three EMTs turned Johnny over to try to resuscitate him. But his "cuffed hands remained pinned beneath his back, forcing his body into an awkward and unstable position, and rendering CPR efforts ineffective," the complaint alleges.

The autopsy report says nothing about a heart attack. The medical examiner determined that Johnny died from seizure disorder with delirium, coronary artery disease, obesity and positional restraint. Johnny had never used alcohol or illicit drugs. The opiate found in his system was codeine, from cough medicine.

Harding Cure, a lawyer defending Tempe and its Fire Department EMTs, calls the case "a tragedy" -- but one in which the EMTs did nothing wrong. He complains that the emergency personnel are "outrageously and scandalously . . . being cast as storm troopers."

"It's very doubtful that anything these firefighters did had any effect on this young man's life," Cure says. "I really feel sorry for them [Jardines]. The City of Tempe Fire Department and each one of these firefighters feel terrible about what happened. They were just trying to help him."

Cure says that Johnny had a history of violent behavior during seizures, and that that necessitated the steps the firefighters took.

"There have been multiple incidents where he has injured members of his family," Cure says. "Which is not to cast the fault or aspersion on this young man. He acted violently to uniformed people and to people in authority. They attempted to maintain his own safety and theirs and the bystanders."

The Jardines acknowledge that their son was charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer while he lived in Florida. But they hasten to note that it stemmed from a misunderstanding and that a jury acquitted Johnny after deliberating less than a half-hour. Moreover, they say, Johnny won a subsequent civil suit against the officers, and was awarded $30,000. They say he has never hurt any members of the family.

"There's lots of records that state otherwise," Cure says.

Officials from the other agencies named as defendants did not return calls seeking comment.

John Brooking Jardine IV was born on September 1, 1961, in Muskegon, Michigan. His parents, John III and Debbie, were young when they wed. December 27 marked their 40th anniversary.

Their memories of Johnny are bittersweet -- unfathomable heartache from his tribulations, but immense pride at his tenacity and sweet disposition. He was intelligent and caring, they say. He had a near photographic memory, read avidly and was a whiz at current events and geography. He was dignified. People who took the trouble to get to know Johnny were invariably amazed at his acuity and depth.

"I'd never trade him for a so-called normal child," Debbie says. "He had big dreams."

Johnny was never normal after the day his mother took him and his sister to a friend's to do laundry. Johnny was 3. When they got out of the car, Johnny told his mother he wanted to play on the slide. The friend had a swing set, and Debbie inferred that's where Johnny intended to go. But Debbie couldn't find him in the yard. She checked at the nearby neighborhood grocery store, but nobody there had seen him.

"I looked across the street and saw a turquoise slide. I rushed over there. As I got closer, I could see the outline of a swimming pool in the ground. He was floating face down in the six-foot end of the pool like a little rag doll in a snow suit," Debbie recalls.

The frigid water undoubtedly saved Johnny's life. He was unconscious for 24 hours. Then he woke up and stared catatonically at the ceiling. "When he finally started talking, all he would say is, 'Mommy, Mommy, cold, cold water,'" Debbie says.

Johnny seemed to be recovering. But as Debbie drove him home from the hospital, the tot stood up in the back seat of the car and stared blankly. He was unresponsive. She turned around and drove back. Johnny finally became responsive, but he couldn't walk.

"They gave me a bottle of red medicine -- it was Phenobarbital -- and sent us home," Debbie says.

Johnny's suffered these small seizures with great frequency, and he was soon diagnosed with right temporal lobe epilepsy. In addition to the seizures, Johnny became disruptive and hyperactive. Little wonder. Each day, he was ingesting 75 milligrams of Dexedrine, a stimulant, and 10 teaspoons of Phenobarbital, a depressant. The Jardines searched frantically for someone who could help their stricken child.

"They really didn't have any solutions," John III says. "They had remedies, and some of them were harmful."

The Jardines were advised to place Johnny in the state hospital, 150 miles distant, when he was only 7. Johnny actually wanted to go, because he wanted desperately to get better. He was housed with adult men and older children. The Jardines were not allowed to see him for a month after his arrival there.

"We went back in 30 days, and Johnny walked right by me -- I didn't even recognize my own son," Debbie says. "He had gained so much weight and they had shaved his head. He was heavily drugged. All his new clothes had been stolen, and they had him in a pair of jeans that would fit his father today."

John III says, "The first few months there were just horrific. You'd go up there and visit and leave and you'd cry all the way home."

Johnny eventually returned home, but his seizures and the medication designed to curb them governed his life. When he was 14, Johnny decided to undergo a temporal lobectomy at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. That surgery, designed to excise the portion of the brain triggering seizures, improved things for a few months.

Johnny managed to get his high school diploma, attending regular classes. When he was 18, he had a second lobectomy. This one was performed in Montreal, and the results were much better. Though the neurosurgeries undermined his small motor skills, Johnny was free of seizures for 12 years. Living on his own, he got a degree from a vocational school in Minneapolis. He got his own car.

John III retired from his job at an office equipment company, and the Jardines relocated to Florida. Johnny joined them there. Not long after arriving, he suffered his first seizure in many years. They would occur infrequently, though.

The Jardines moved to Arizona in 1998. Their daughter Maryanne lives in Nevada, and they wanted to be closer to her and their grandson, Joey. They had friends in Sun Lakes, so that's where they settled.

Johnny, meanwhile, was more driven than ever. He researched university programs that offered special assistance to disabled people. It seemed serendipitous when ASU responded amicably to Johnny's inquiries, and encouraged him to apply under its Disabled Student Resource Program. They promised to accommodate his disabilities -- giving him more times to take tests, for example.

"Even at 37, he wanted to take the world on and make it better," John III says. "When he got the letter of acceptance from ASU, he immediately went and got it laminated, and brought it over to show us."

Johnny came to Arizona ahead of his parents. When he learned that there was a long waiting list for disabled housing, he contacted the office of Senator John McCain. Johnny had a place in downtown Phoenix within days. He got something he'd always wanted, a cat.

Once enrolled in the fall of '98, "He bought all the ASU tee shirts, sweat shirts, the license plate, everything," his father says. "He was so proud that he was part of that. He was going to be something, do something with his life."

Those goals were shattered on March 30, 1999. The Jardines believe the rescue personnel thought he was another college kid on acid.

"It kills me every day of my life that he died like a common criminal," his mother says.

Onto Part 2: Allegations of a cover-up..


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >