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Second Keys helicopter ambulance crew member arrested in stolen drug case

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 9/24/2022 David Goodhue, Miami Herald

Weeks after Monroe County Fire Rescue’s chief flight nurse was arrested on charges she stole narcotics from the department’s helicopter air-ambulance fleet, a paramedic assigned to the program was arrested, accused of tampering with evidence and official misconduct, according to the county’s sheriff’s office.

Sheriff’s office detectives booked Damian Roberto Suarez, 44, into county jail Friday evening. Information on his bond and legal representation was not immediately available.

According to the sheriff’s office, Suarez lied to detectives about his knowledge of an ongoing investigation into the theft of medications, including morphine and a powerful post-surgery sedative, by Lynda Jayne Rusinowski, 56, the chief flight nurse on the county’s Trauma Star air ambulance program.

“Although this is a troubling case, it does not reflect the vast majority of the men and women at Monroe County Fire Rescue. That said, anyone who obstructs a criminal investigation under these circumstances will be held accountable,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement.

Suarez was hired by Monroe County Fire Rescue on Dec. 5, 2016, said county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood. His annual salary is $68,336.

Detectives say Suarez deleted text messages and pictures from his cellphone that were related to the investigation after they warned him not to do so, Adam Linhardt, sheriff’s office spokesman, said.

Rusinowski was charged with two counts of grand theft of a controlled substance, two counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and two counts of official misconduct.

Monroe County Fire Rescue, which hires nurses and paramedics for the three-helicopter Trauma Star program, reported the drugs were missing in late July. The medications are stored in the helicopters’ hangar in the Middle Keys city of Marathon. Detectives also said that the program’s drug logs did not add up.

Rusinowski, 56, has been a licensed registered nurse in Florida since 1990 and a licensed advanced nurse practitioner since 1999, Florida Department of Health records show. Prior to her arrest and resignation in August, she had no prior disciplinary actions nor public complaints on her record.

The case remains ongoing, Ramsay said.

This is not the first time drugs have gone missing from the Trauma Star hangar, nor is it the first time there have been issues with the program’s controlled-substance logs.

In October 2013, the fire rescue department discovered that vials of morphine and an intravenous anesthetic called Etomidate were missing from the drug storage room in the helicopter’s hangar.

In 2010, an EMT captain assigned to Trauma Star removed unspecified medical supplies from the hangar to administer medical aid to a local volunteer firefighter at his home.

Both instances were made public after a series of stories by the Miami Herald/ into the missing drugs and missing supplies.

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