More than a month after a grieving mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against area first responders in Surry County Superior Court, she’s still waiting for her first day in court.
Terena Dawn Wood filed the suit in May, two years after her daughter’s death.
Megan Danielle Wood’s life ended by her own hand on May 25, 2014, but, according to her mother’s lawsuit, she did so only after reaching out to a local first responder who failed to act properly in alerting authorities to the younger Wood’s suicidal intentions.
Terena Wood also contends the first responder never should have held such a role because he was a convicted sex offender.
Megan Wood, who was 26 at the time of her death, had expressed her intent to kill herself to EMT Michael Bryan Cochran prior to putting a 12-gauge shotgun to her chest, the suit claims.
Terena Wood’s complaint filed in Surry County Superior Court alleges Cochran, who was having an extra-marital sexual relationship with Megan Wood, failed to act in accordance with his training when notified of Megan Wood’s suicidal convictions.
The complaint states Cochran and his wife met Wood at her place of employment, an insurance company in Elkin. The night prior to Wood’s death, Cochran’s wife, Rhonda Cochran, had also sought to become intimately involved with Wood.
On the day of Megan Wood’s death, her mother contends that for more than an hour after learning of Megan Wood’s intentions, Cochran failed to notify authorities of her plan to end her own life.
The mother is also asking the court to hold the State Road Volunteer Fire Department, county EMS leadership and others responsible for her daughter’s death.
At the center of her complaint is the contention the volunteer fire department was negligent in putting Cochran, who had been convicted of sex crimes, on its force. She even alleges the department helped Cochran circumvent or navigate the system to attain his EMT certification from the state Office of Emergency Medical Services.
According to the complaint, Cochran pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent liberties with a minor in 2000. The girl was 14 years old and Cochran 22 at the time. Thus, he was placed on the state’s sex offender registry.
The N.C. Department of Corrections website states Cochran served probation for the crimes.
Cochran was unsuccessful on his first attempt to gain his EMT certification, according to the court documents. The fact he was a registered sex offender made him ineligible to hold such a certification.
In 2010, however, Cochran petitioned Wilkes County Superior Court for removal from the sex offender registry. It was granted, according to an official with the Wilkes County Clerk of Court’s office.
Wood’s complaint alleges an assistant chief for the fire department even aided in his removal from the registry.
After the court’s order removing him from the registry, Cochran looked to garner his EMT certification, and the complaint alleges Assistant Chief Kevin Cheek aided in that undertaking.
However, Wood’s complaint states Cochran’s removal from the registry should not have signaled a green light for his EMT certification, pointing to the state’s relevant statutes at the time.
“A person who is required to register as a sex offender under Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes, or who was convicted of an offense which would have required registration if committed at a time when such registration would have been required by law, shall not be granted EMS credentials,” reads the statute governing credentialing of EMTs.
The statute notably has no provision allowing somebody to gain credentials should they be removed from the registry.
But when Cochran took his case to the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) for an appeal in 2010, the board granted his EMT certification, according to Wood’s complaint. Cheek accompanied him to the appeal hearing.
In the end, Cochran was granted the certification. He went to work as an EMT for the fire department, where he worked under a special set of rules, according to what was filed in court: he was not allowed to be alone with a female patient.
Whether Cochran misrepresented his situation, whether the board erred in granting the certification or whether Cochran had, in fact, found a legal way around his past as a sex offender remains unknown, and officials are by and large refusing to comment or provide any sort of documentation surrounding the case.
The OEMS chief failed to respond to multiple inquiries about Cochran’s situation, and he refused to return multiple telephone messages seeking information regarding the general laws and policies governing credentialing a sex offender.
A compliance official with the department refused to answer media inquiries and directed calls to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services communications office. An official from that office would not provide an answer as to whether a sex offender could be granted an EMT certification. Instead, she offered a link to general credentialing information available on the department’s website, a set of rules which was not in effect at the time of Cochran’s petition.
The administrative code section referenced in the email states, “Any person listed on the North Carolina Department of Justice Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry shall be denied initial or renewal EMS credentials.”
Though this code sounds less strict than what is stated in the general statutes referenced in Wood’s complaint, this portion was not enacted until 2013, long after the OEMS had granted Cochran’s certification.
Cochran’s past as a sex offender plays a role in Wood’s assertion the department was negligent in hiring Cochran, and the question as to whether he should have ever been granted his EMT certification remains unanswered by authorities.
Additionally, a public records request seeking all documents related to the 2010 hearing in which Cochran was granted his EMT certification was denied by the office of health and human services.
“All information obtained pursuant to criminal background reviews by the EMS Disciplinary Committee is not publicly available,” wrote a staff attorney in refusing the request.
Wood is asking for a judgment in excess of $25,000, and the case has yet to be set for a hearing.
An official from the Surry County Clerk of Court’s office stated she did not believe all defendants in the suit — nine in all — had been served, despite the fact that the filing is now more than a month old.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.