Detroit-area woman wrongly declared dead was in body bag for hours, attorney says

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James H. Cole Home for Funerals main chapel in Detroit, Michigan. - James H. Cole Home for Funerals/James H. Cole Home for Funerals/TNS

DETROIT — When the funeral home unzipped the body bag that Timesha Beauchamp had been in for hours, the embalmer faced a startling scene: the 20-year-old on the table who was thought to be dead was very much alive.

Her eyes were open — and she was breathing.

The macabre account, delivered Tuesday by the family’s attorney Geoffrey Fieger on a video conference call, is making international headlines. Fieger’s law firm and the Southfield police are both investigating what happened. The scene was surreal, as if it were out of a horror movie.

Fieger, who offered journalists a detailed narrative of what happened Sunday, said he does not yet know whether there was negligence or if the misdiagnosis led Beauchamp — who has cerebral palsy — to not get the treatment she needed and caused her more harm.

The Free Press left messages Tuesday for comment from Southfield officials.

“Perhaps they wrongly believe that under unfortunate circumstances, Timesha had passed way,” Fieger, a well-known Michigan plaintiffs’ attorney said of the paramedics who treated Beauchamp. “But they were wrong — terribly wrong.”

To make matters worse, one of the people at the scene, a nurse, thought maybe Beauchamp was alive.

Beauchamp, Fieger said, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant. The disorder affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture, which Fieger speculated may have been a contributing factor to the medical misdiagnosis.

There’s no question that someone made a mistake in pronouncing Beauchamp dead, when she was alive. But who made it – and how it happened – is still unclear.

It’s also unclear, Feiger said, what caused to Beauchamp to stop breathing to begin with, so much that trained paramedics concluded she was dead. The hospital, he said, has not yet reached a diagnosis of what happened.

There also was no indication, he said, that her condition is connected to the pandemic.

For now, Fieger said, the family’s first concern is for her health and welcomes prayers for her.

Once the funeral home realized she was alive, Fieger said, Beauchamp was taken to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where she has been on a respirator and in critical condition. Her heart rate is up, and her blood pressure is low. Whether she will survive, he added, may be “touch-and-go.”

Fieger read a statement from Beauchamp’s mother, Erica Lattimore.

The ordeal, she said, began between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. Her daughter had apparently suffered a seizure. As a result of the cerebral palsy, the family, Lattimore said, usually helps Beauchamp eat and get ready for the day at that time.

They also gave her a breathing treatment, Lattimore said.

An earlier account by the Southfield Fire Department said Beauchamp suffered a heart attack.

But Feiger said, Beauchamp was having difficulty breathing. Her lips looked pale, and Lattimore called her son, Steve Thompson, and EMS.

“It is at that point,” Fieger said, “the entire sad scenario gets very, very murky.”

EMS and police arrived at the home and at some point, Fieger added, Beauchamp was pronounced dead.

Southfield officials later tried to explain in an announcement that was sent on behalf of the city’s fire chief under an unusual — and understated — subject line: “Mistaken pronouncement of death.” But even that later required a correction.

According to the Southfield Fire Department, which would not release victim’s name, paramedics performed CPR and tried to revive Beauchamp. But after 30 minutes they concluded she likely was no longer alive.


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