ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been almost a year since a man died when he was hit by a car on I-95 in Orangeburg County. Paul Tarashuk had schizophrenia and his family says he was having an episode when it happened.
The parents of Paul Tarashuk filed a lawsuit against the law enforcement and health agencies that interacted with Tarashuk that night.
The 67-page lawsuit was filed against Orangeburg County Emergency Medical Services, the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office, and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Cindy and Paul Tarashuk Sr. said that every person who encountered Paul that night failed to do their job and the Tarashuk’s hope this lawsuit changes the way law enforcement and emergency personnel treat people who have mental illnesses.
“If this were to ever happen with him alive again, I would hope that it would be different that there was more awareness and that people would know that they can’t do this,” Cindy Tarashuk said. “They can’t treat somebody with a mental illness like they’re a criminal.”
Cindy Tarashuk said watching the footage from the last night of her son’s life still brings tears to her eyes. She said she use to be an EMT in New Jersey.
“Watching how they interacted with my son, I’ve never experienced anyone on this job treating a patient like that,” Cindy Tarashuk said.
Paul Tarashuk was driving his pickup truck on I-95 in September 2018 when it went off the road. Investigators said he then stripped and climbed on top of a semi-truck, which he rode for about 11 miles.
The truck driver reported the incident. When Highway Patrol and Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived on the scene, he was still on top of the truck.
“These people lost their ability to care,” Cindy Tarashuk said.
Orangeburg EMS evaluated him and administered an ammonia inhalant through his nose, aiming to calm him down. His parents say he was having a schizophrenic episode, which is why they say he couldn’t communicate his name.
But when first responders asked about going to the hospital or to jail, he shook his head no.
“Nobody wanted to help him,” Cindy Tarashuk said. “Nine people in all, and no one stood up and said hey guys we need to take this guy in.”
An Orangeburg County deputy then took Tarashuk to Santee, dropping him off at a closed gas station at two o’clock in the morning.
He had no shirt, shoes, wallet, cell phone, or ID.
The lawsuit says that Paul should have been transported to the hospital for a mental evaluation and that four different state agencies failed to do so.
“Nothing should have made them say ok you can go,” Cindy Tarashuk said. “He was naked on top of the truck on a highway.”
Russel Burke, who is representing the family, said similar cases involving mental illnesses have happened in Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, and California.
“In this case, it became apparent that every state agency that touched the situation did the wrong thing,” Burke said.
“He didn’t know where he was,” Paul Tarashuk Senior said. “He had no shoes. No money. No nothing. He probably said I have to find something, but he wasn’t in the state to find anything.”
Five hours later, on the same highway, a driver hit Tarashuk, killing him.
“There are other people out there who are vulnerable with people who they shouldn’t be, like law enforcement and EMS,” Cindy Tarashuk said.
Cindy and Paul Tarashuk said that they don’t know why their son decided to leave his apartment in Delaware to make a drive that ended in Orangeburg that September night, but Cindy said they had never seen him in a state where he didn’t know his name and unable to speak the way he was in the video from that night.
The Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Department, Orangeburg EMS, and South Carolina Department of Public Safety haven’t responded to requests for comment. All of the defendants have thirty days from the date of service of the complaint to file a suit or motion.
The family’s attorney said it will most likely be 18 months to two years before the case is completed because of the number of witnesses and depositions in the case.