A HSE paramedic faces a prison term up to five years after pleading guilty to assaulting two female first aid students when he placed them in a choke hold five years ago.
Andrew Long, aged 35, changed his plea at Ennis Circuit Court last Friday just before the State and defence were about to make their closing speeches before a jury at the end of the three day trial.
Mr Long, who knocked mother of one, Mary Nihill out and rendered her unconscious with his choke hold, said ‘guilty’ when re-arraigned on the charges.
Mr Long changed his plea after discussions between his legal team and the State prior to the court where the State agreed to a less serious charge against Mr Long’s second victim and mother of three, Elise McMahon.
However, Mr Long of Carraig Dubh, Tobertaosceain, Ennis now faces a jail term up to five years after his plea of guilty to the more serious assault causing harm against Mary Nihill contrary to Section 3 of the Offences Against the Person Act.
In evidence, during the trial, Ms Nihill got visibly upset in the witness box as she recalled how Mr Long knocked her out during an evening Civil Defence first aid class at the Vocational Education Centre in Scarriff in March 2013.
Ms Nihill told the court that after the incident “I was in shock. I thought I was in safe hands with a professional paramedic. He tried to knock me out – he did knock me out.”
In a corridor at the centre, Ms Nihill said she was sitting down and that from behind Mr Long placed his left arm around her neck and applied force with his another arm.
She said, “I was choking and slipping on the chair and telling him to stop. I wanted to go out, but I couldn’t escape.At no time did I consent to him putting his hands around my neck.”
Mr Long performed the same manoeuvre a second time despite her saying ‘no’ and the Tulla woman lost consciousness due to the pressure on her airways during the second manoeuvre.
She said, “I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I came to, he was sitting in front of me with his two hands on my knees.”
Ms Nihill said that she was drooling from the mouth.
Elise McMahon from Broadford also attended the course the same night and was seven months pregnant at the time. She also stated that Mr Long called her out to the corridor that night after the class was over.
Ms McMahon said that Mr Long put his arm wrapped around her neck from behind.
She said, “My airwaves were cut off. I was conscious, but literally I couldn’t talk. I had no voice. It was the weirdest feeling. It scared me. The only way to stop was to push my body forward.”
As part of the prosecution case, the head of the country’s Civil Defence College, Roisín Maguire said that the manoeuvre carried out by Mr Long on the two women at “could have been life-threatening because basically, you would be restricting blood flow to the brain”.
Ms Maguire told the court, “It would result in a restriction of oxygen to the brain and it would be a dangerous manoeuvre in my opinion”.
Ms Maguire madded,“The manoeuvre is not included in any of the manuals or any of the first aid literature in all of my training. There is nothing that would demonstrate that kind of manoeuvre that I would see in training.”
In evidence, course director in Paramedic Studies at the University of Limerick, prosecution witness, Mark Dixon was asked by counsel for the State, Philip Rahn BL to comment on the manoeuvre described by Ms Nihill and Ms McMahon which, resulted in the cutting off of supply of oxygen and blood in the neck.
In reply, Mr Dixon,“I think it is most important to state that the first rule of any medical eduction is to do no harm, whether it is the Hippocratic oath or a professional code of conduct.
“The absolute golden rule is that you never do harm and certainly what I have heard described, the occlusion of an airway with the potential starvation of oxygen would never be condoned in any form of educational process.”
Asked by Mr Rahn why is that, Mr Dixon replied,“The brain is a very sensitive organ. The brain needs oxygen and sugar to live. If you take one of those elements away, it becomes potentially life threatening. Anyone who has done a first aid programme or life saving or rescue course everything starts around the airway and this is the tube that runs from the mouth and the nose to the lungs. Any manoeuvre that closes that airway prevents oxygen getting to the brain and that is life-threatening.”
In court on Friday after Judge Gerald Keys discharged the jury, counsel for the State, Philip Rahn BL said that there was no State objection to Mr Long being remanded on continuing bail to June 26th for sentence.
Mr Rahn said that victim impact statements from the two victims will be prepared for the sentencing hearing. As part of the bail terms, Mr Long is not to have any contact with the victims or their families.