A 62-year-old blind man has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming Baltimore paramedics refused to allow his service dog to accompany him in an ambulance after he was struck by a car.
Curtis Graham Jr., a Marine who served in Vietnam, was on his way to the city's Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11 when he was hit by a car near his West Baltimore home. Paramedics would not allow Indo, his 2-year-old golden Labrador retriever, into the ambulance, Graham said.
"They refused to take a service animal who I need very much," said Graham, who suffered minor injuries. "He is my eyes."
Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said the incident was under investigation. He confirmed that a blind man was struck by a car and taken to a hospital by ambulance, and said he believed the victim's guide dog had not been transported.
Cartwright said that to his knowledge, the department did not have a policy on service animals.
A spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind said first responders are "legally obligated to transport the service animal" under Maryland law.
"You're basically taking the blind person's way of understanding his environment away from him," said federation spokesman Chris Danielsen. "I have no idea what sort of irrational thought process was behind not letting the dog in the ambulance, but that is an act of discrimination," he said.
Graham said he had planned to take the subway to join in the city's Veterans Day parade, then head to the National Aquarium, where he volunteers at the information desk. Graham, a retired bus driver, has relied on a guide dog since 2006, when he lost his sight to glaucoma.
Graham said he and Indo were crossing Cold Spring Lane near Dolfield Avenue when a car making a left turn plowed into them.
"My dog took the blow because he was trying to protect me," he said. "By the grace of God, he wasn't hurt."
Graham said he was flung onto the hood of the car and carried about 10 feet before he rolled off. Paramedics quickly arrived and strapped Graham to a board to stabilize him, but balked when he said Indo needed to accompany him.
"They were going to leave my dog on the pavement, and I wasn't going to have it," he said. "I said, 'The hell you ain't. He's a service dog.' I said, 'If you don't take my dog, I ain't going.'"
Graham eventually called the apartment complex where he lives, and a maintenance worker came to retrieve Indo.
"He was upset and I was upset," Graham said of the dog. "He didn't want to go as they were taking me away in the ambulance."
Danielsen said guide dogs are highly trained and would not cause problems in an ambulance or a hospital. And, he said, it's a misdemeanor to separate a guide dog from a blind person.
Graham was taken to Sinai Hospital, where doctors determined he had bruises and swelling. He was treated and released. Graham said it was disorienting to be in the hospital without his guide dog.
"As far as I'm concerned, they violated my civil rights," he said. "We're partners, and it's against [the] law for them to separate the team."