By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — ALTONA — The driver of the Champlain EMS ambulance that crashed early Tuesday on Route 190 suffered a fatal heart attack.
Eric S. Monty, 45, of Mooers was transporting a patient to the hospital at about 12:15 a.m., driving southeast, when the vehicle went off the road via the west shoulder and struck a drainage ditch, according to State Police.
The ambulance hit a utility-pole guide wire and a telecommunications box then drove up an earthen embankment, coming to a stop partly in Duley Road.
Injured were Monty’s sister Susan Roberts, 52, an EMT on board; technician Peter Coulombe, 26, of Champlain; and patient Gary Lamarche, 55, of Altona.
Clinton County Coroner David Donah pronounced Monty dead at the site of the accident.
An autopsy by Dr. Deonarayan Saha at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh later in the day showed Monty had severe coronary heart disease, which precipitated cardiac arrest.
“It’s a horrific day,” said Chris Trombley, a deputy fire coordinator for Clinton County Emergency Services and member of Champlain EMS.
He was relieved to report, however, that Coulombe, who suffered a traumatic head injury and had been transferred from the Plattsburgh hospital to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, underwent successful surgery on Tuesday.
“He’s doing much better.”
Roberts, too, had gained some ground at CVPH.
“Obviously, both are in serious condition, but she’s improving,” Trombley said.
Lamarche was in stable condition Tuesday, according to a State Police press release.
The original EMS medical call for Lamarche came in just after midnight, Trombley said. The ambulance, stationed at Mooers Volunteer Fire Department, was providing mutual aid to Altona Fire District.
At the time of the crash, the weather was cloudy, but the roads were dry, State Police Capt. Brent Gillam said.
Monty was wearing a seat belt, and Lamarche was secured at the time of the crash, Trombley said. Roberts and Coulombe were not belted in, as they were providing Lamarche with medical assistance, he said.
It was unknown how fast the ambulance was traveling when the crash occurred.
The tragedy reminded emergency responders of a fatal ambulance crash that happened on Route 11 in the Town of Mooers in March 1999, when the driver lost control of the vehicle, which was owned by private transport firm Seaway Valley. Massena Memorial Hospital nurse Laura Lee Norris was killed when she was thrown from the vehicle.
That ambulance, Trombley recalled, “more or less disintegrated” because the construction was so flimsy.
The accident provided a lesson, he said, that Champlain EMS has never forgotten when drawing up the specifications for new ambulances, to make them as safe as possible for those who ride in them.
Monty was a member of the Mooers Volunteer Fire Department. His wife, Norma Jean Monty, died in October 2010. He leaves a teenage daughter, McKayla A. Monty.
“He was a real good man, a good father,” Mooers Town Supervisor Cory Ross said Tuesday morning, about an hour after learning of the accident.
Ross had known him for years.
“It’s just a major loss to our town.”
Trombley had also known Eric for a long time — more than 15 years.
The ambulance driver, he said, was a “hardworking, honest, sincere and very dedicated person.”
And since starting with Champlain EMS about two years ago, he had given “110 percent” to his work, Trombley said.
It’s difficult for emergency personnel to lose fellow members, to see them in need of medical care.
“We never think of ourselves as patients.”
The sense of loss spans two communities whose emergency responders work closely together, he said.
A tragic accident such as this gives cause for reflection, Trombley said.
“It just makes you stop for a minute and really take a breath and look.”