Theft of ambulances is not uncommon

The exterior of the newly designed ambulance (ATCEMS)
The exterior of the newly designed ambulance (ATCEMS)

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Austin police confirm officers arrested Rashard Williams, 28, for stealing an Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance with the crew and a patient still inside over the weekend.

According to an ATCEMS spokesperson, the medic crew was on scene of a call at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) in downtown Austin when an individual stole the ambulance while the medic team was tending to a patient. The medic crew was able to provide location and situational details and updates to law enforcement while the suspect drove away.

Rashard Williams (Austin Police Department)
Rashard Williams (Austin Police Department)

ATCEMS said the suspect pulled off the road, stopped the vehicle and ran away, that’s when medics were able to regain control of the ambulance.

The incident on Christmas day was the second time this month that an ATCEMS ambulance was stolen. On Dec. 3, police say David Oliver III stole an ambulance when it was parked at University Medical Center Brackenridge. He was later arrested in Killeen.

Preventing Theft

ATCEMS is hardly the only organization to have an ambulance stolen. In July, KXAS reported that a patient ran into the front seat of an ambulance in the Dallas area and eventually crashed into a warehouse.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office confirmed that another man was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison. He was convicted of aggravated robbery for pulling a knife on the driver of an ambulance in Fort Worth before driving off.

The website EMS1.com, a news and information website for EMTs and paramedics, lists numerous reports of stolen ambulances across the country.

“Ambulance thefts happen fairly frequently around the county,” said Greg Friese, paramedic and Editor-in-Chief of EMS1.com. “They seem to be a crime of opportunity. Often times somebody that’s fleeing the emergency department decides to leave against medical advice, doesn’t have a ride home and they see an ambulance parked outside the hospital and they take it.”

Friese says the recent theft in Austin was unusual because the crew and patient were still onboard. Friese has also written about was to ways to protect ambulances from theft. He says when he speaks with EMTs and paramedics he recommends first making sure doors are locked or there is a system in place to prevent someone from driving off if the engine is left running.

“I think there are a number of either after-market additions or at the time the ambulance is assembled at the manufacturer to add on things,” said Friese. “Maybe [the ambulance] requires a keypad or some sort of code to be entered or maybe there is a button that needs to be engaged that’s not obvious to somebody that’s in the ambulance for the first time. There’s also automatic vehicle locator technology.”

ATCEMS confirms it has GPS tracking and a policy to leave ambulances locked when unattended. Still, with about 80 ambulances and several different models, officials will have to consider not only cost, but computability when thinking about upgrades.

ATCEMS officials say they are reviewing procedures and looking at other possible ways to prevent theft.