Mpozi: still investigating his death

Dateline: Mon 28 Aug 2006

Alfarena Ballew, Marion County chief deputy coroner, said today that tests are continuing in the death of Star photographer Mpozi Tolbert, 34 years old. He developed respiratory problems in the Star's newsroom on the night of July 3, sometime after 6 p.m. After being taken by EMTs to Wishard Hospital, he was pronounced dead at 6:57 p.m.

Ballew said today that the initial autopsy conclusively ruled out a coronary or pulmonary embolism as the cause of his death. So much for all those who want to quickly bury what happened with the old, "Well, he had a heart attack...(or an embolism)...there was nothing anybody could do."

The next step has been for the coroner's office to take slides of tissue samples. Tests are being conducted.

Mpozi's symptoms included severe respiratory distress -- labored breathing, wheezing and gasping. By the time the first 911 call was recorded from the newsroom, he was unconscious and on the floor, but he was breathing, according to those on the scene. CPR was begun by two copy editors and was continued by EMTs, along with the use of defibs.

This space has been critical of Gannett for its failure to have an adequate and swift safety protocol in place for the newsroom when Mpozi started to fail. Problems included getting a quick outside line to 911, no defibs, no formal CPR training, initial botched directions as to where to send the ambulance and a freight elevator that was blocked when it was time to take Mpozi to the hospital.

The National Association of Black Journalists reported in a recent article by Monitor staff writer Jennifer Jiggetts that Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va., has amenities such as defibs available in its corporate Oz-like offices. Why no defibs for the stress-laden newsrooms? No formal CPR training? Oh, yes, I remember...it is called Mc LEAN, Va. As in McPaper. As in strip down the resources as much as possible. As in cheap.

Traditionally, workplace safety has been seen as something to be reckoned with by industry, construction, trucking, etc. But businesses and offices have every bit as much obligation to provide a decent safety net for employees.

When I first wrote about Mpozi's death, I was contacted by Tammy Miser of Lexington, Ky. Her brother was killed in a workplace accident. As a result, she has dedicated her tireless energy to educating the public about these issues. Her site, as of this writing, includes a story on state-approved OSHA plans (Indiana is in compliance, so resources are available for companies here.) She does a good job of keeping track of news around the nation regarding the issues raised here.

Please, check it out:

http://www.usmwf.org/

contact me: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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