Medical examiner: Man died from oysters

September 30, 2008 08:31:00 AM

By Jon Miltimore / News Herald Writer

 

Source of Article:  http://www.newsherald.com/news/panama_68483___article.html/city_died.html

PANAMA CITY
    Bay County medical examiners say Steven M. Harrison, a Florida man who died suddenly following a high speed chase with police, was killed by vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium from the same family that causes cholera.
    Examiners said Harrison had a deficient liver that made him susceptible to the illness, which usually is caused by raw seafood, in this case, oysters.
    According to the Center for Disease Control, vibrio vulnificus is rare but most prominent in the Gulf Coast states, where more than 900 cases were reported from 1988 to 2006.
    Harrison was unconscious in the back seat of a vehicle that led police on a Sept. 23 car chase that began in Washington County and ended in Holmes County.
    Although the driver of the vehicle was arrested, Harrison was not charged with a crime, although he was taken into custody for his own safety until he was transferred to the hospital, according to Washington County Sheriff's Office reports.
    The Washington County Sheriff officials initially said the department was warned by medical officers that Harrison might have had a different bacterial infection-a flesh eating disease known as necrotizing fasciitis-and told to be on the lookout for sores or other unusual symptoms.
Family devastated
    Jaunice Harrison was awakened at her home in Summerfield about 3 a.m. by Florida Highway Patrol officials who told her that her husband, Steven, had died at Bay Medical Center.
    Chris Azar, the boyfriend of Harrison's 26 year-old daughter Stephanie, spoke on behalf of the family and said the family was not told about the chase but were told by hospital officials Harrison died from eating contaminated oysters.
    "We were informed immediately the disease was non-communicable," Azar said. "You had this [flesh eating disease] story that had somehow become sensationalized, when Dad had just become deathly sick from bad oysters."
    Azar said Harrison, a tile-worker who had run a successful business during the housing boom but had faltered during the recent slump, had been in Alabama for about five weeks installing tile for a company that builds hotels when called one evening and said he was ill and returning.
    "He said he was being taken down in a wheelchair he was so sick," Azar said.
    But Harrison never made it home, and the co-worker who was sent to drive him there currently sits in a Washington county jail on six charges, including driving under the influence and resisting arrest.
    Azar said he doesn't doubt the driver of the vehicle had consumed alcohol, but he thinks deputies assumed Harrison was drunk.
    "I never saw him drink, ever," Azar said, citing Harrison's liver condition. "We don't believe he was drinking."
    Azar said the family was told by deputies that Harrison was taken to jail at 4 p.m. and arrived at the hospital at 6 p.m.
    "What on Earth took them two hours to get him to the hospital?" Azar asked.
    Azar said the financial and emotional strain the family has undergone is immense.
    "The family is totally devastated," said Azar, who drove five hours to Bay County to retrieve the family's impounded car and is trying to come up with the money to cover cremation costs. "It's a small family; there's not a lot of people to reach out to."
    Donations to the Harrison family can be made at http://proapp.net/steve

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