A civil lawsuit has been filed against Orangeburg County and others nearly a year after a mentally ill New Jersey man was killed on Interstate 95.
Paul Tarashuk’s family claims in a 70-page complaint that the actions of the county, Santee and other agencies “shocks the conscious.”
"Paul had posed a threat to himself, and had been a threat to drivers on I-95," the lawsuit states. "Paul should have been transported to the hospital for a mental evaluation. Four different state agencies failed to do so."
"Paul's death was entirely unnecessary and was proximately caused by the defendants' reckless and conscious disregard for his life and safety," the complaint states.
The lawsuit was filed July 31 against Orangeburg County, Orangeburg County Emergency Medical Services, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office, the S.C. Department of Public Safety, the town of Santee and the Santee Police Department, as well as individual employees.
The lawsuit alleges officials at the scene were “negligent, and willfully reckless and deliberately indifferent by refusing to provide Mr. Tarashuk with the requisite level of care.”
Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said, "The situation is a legal process that will be looked at.
"The actions of the individuals in that video does not reflect on the entire EMS system. We are doing a better service delivering to the county as far as EMS is concerned."
Young declined comment on specifics of the case, noting it is a legal matter.
The complaint describes how on Sept. 9, 2018, Tarashuk was traveling southbound on I-95 with his two therapy dogs when his pickup truck ran off the road near the Santee on-ramp (Exit 97) between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.
He encountered a trucker who pulled on the side of the interstate to urinate, the complaint says.
Tarashuk “underwent a schizophrenic event, stripped off his clothes and jumped onto the catwalk of a tractor-trailer parked near the area,” the complaint said.
The trucker saw Tarashuk and became frightened, the complaint said. He took off and Tarashuk traveled about eleven miles on the truck's catwalk before Tarashuk pulled the brake lines of the truck, forcing it to stop.
The truck driver told a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper that Tarashuk was “crawling under the truck, messing with the truck, on top of the truck, sliding down the windshield, grabbing the windshield wipers, trying to get into the cab through the passenger door.”
The truck driver ended up taking photos of Tarashuk “hanging upside down and looking into the cab of his truck,” the complaint notes. The truck driver informed the Highway Patrol that Tarashuk had a “death wish in his eyes.”
Tarashuk then jumped in I-95 traffic and was almost killed at least twice by vehicles, according to the complaint.
When Santee police arrived, Tarashuk was on top of the truck, incoherent, not knowing where and who he was and speaking gibberish, according to the complaint.
Santee Police detained Tarashuk for about 47 minutes in handcuffs in the patrol car and asked more questions, the complaint said. Tarashuk continued to be incoherent.
The Santee officers began to think Tarashuk was on drugs, the complaint said. Upon the arrival of a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper, a Santee officer allegedly told the trooper Tarashuk was “definitely ... a mental subject of some sort.”
The trooper engaged with Tarashuk, who tried to inform him that he had been in an accident and that he had “tried to plug the truck back up,” the complaint said.
Tarashuk had indicated to law enforcement that he would show the trooper his identification.
The complaint notes Tarashuk had requested the trooper “drive him back," but the trooper allegedly told Tarashuk he would be going to jail for public and disorderly conduct.
Eventually, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and tried to engage with Tarashuk to no avail.
The complaint alleges that officials believed Tarashuk was under the influence or that a sexual encounter was involved, because the incident occurred near what the lawsuit refers to as a sex store.
Tarashuk stopped talking. The lawsuit notes the officers had informed Tarashuk he would go to jail until he could be identified.
According to the lawsuit, the Highway Patrol trooper gave the case over to an Orangeburg County deputy, who told the Santee police officer the incident was being passed down to him.
The Orangeburg County deputy allegedly said, "He ain't my fish. I ain't cleaning it. I get him some medical help. All I'm doing. That's not acceptable."
The complaint alleges the officers did not make an effort to locate Tarashuk's truck or his identifying information.
Orangeburg County EMS crews let Tarashuk leave the ambulance without taking him to a hospital despite knowing what had occurred earlier that night, the complaint says.
An Orangeburg County deputy took Tarashuk back to Santee, letting him off at a gas station parking lot at without shirt, shoes, wallet, cell phone and identification, the complaint alleges.
Four hours later, a naked Tarashuk died when he was hit by a truck.
The same EMS crew responded to the scene.
"This should never have happened," the complaint states. "He had almost been killed by jumping out in traffic. He gave no coherent answers to questions. He obviously needed a mental evaluation."
According to the complaint, Tarashuk was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The complaint notes the disorder was successfully managed, but “when his drug dosages were lowered he displayed manic behaviors.”
Tarashuk's truck was found later that afternoon in a ditch by the Highway Patrol with one of Tarashuk's therapy dogs.
"Highway Patrol did not make the obvious connection between the abandoned truck and the pedestrian that had been hit and killed that morning," the lawsuit states.
Eventually, Orangeburg County Animal Control contacted the Tarashuk family and informed the family their son might have been involved in an accident.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.
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