Rebekah Rasooly still lights up when she talk about her son Ilan, the outgoing, religious college student, who she said loved making other people happy.
"He was a redhead. Like his hair, he was bright and jolly and social and just totally lovable,” she told the News4 I-Team.
But one year ago, Ilan Rasooly was on school break from Cornell, visiting childhood friends in College Park, Maryland, when one misstep changed everything.
"We never expected this to happen," his mother said. "We are perfectly ordinary people living an ordinary life. We sent our son off to have fun with his friends. When he needed help, the people who are supposed to help him didn't help him."
Rasooly and some of his friends were challenging each other to short foot races on a sidewalk outside a University of Maryland residence hall when the accident happened.
His best friend, Tani Levitt, was there and said he remembers the moment Rasooly fell.
“Just clipped his heel or he tripped on the sidewalk," Levitt explained.
Rasooly hit the back of his head while trying to run backwards. Friends immediately called 911.
"[The emergency technicians] were just moving very, very slowly," Levitt said. Asked if he thought the EMTs assumed they were drunk, Levitt said, “Absolutely."
A copy of the EMT report obtained by the I-Team noted, "All bystanders on scene were considerably intoxicated as well as the patient."
But Levitt said Rasooly had only one drink that night. According to Levitt, the emergency crew did not put a neck brace on his friend and at first tried to make him walk to the ambulance.
"They tried to pick him up, and his legs were all like jelly, and he was complaining that he couldn't feel the bottom half of his body,” Levitt said. "Instead of standing flat on his feet, he was like this, almost standing on the top of his feet."
The EMTs eventually used a stretcher. According to county records, they did not use lights and sirens to transport Rasooly, meaning they did not consider his injuries to be life-threatening.
Levitt said what one of the emergency technicians said after Rasooly yelled out in pain the moment after they arrived at the emergency room still haunts him one year later. “I'll never forget this, absolutely never in my life. The guy, the one who was driving, he slaps him on the thigh, ‘Could you shut up? There are people who are really sick here,’” Levitt said.
Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor talked to the I-Team about how he investigated Rasooly’s case after getting a complaint from his mother. When asked whether comments made to Rasooly that night were acceptable, he responded, “Absolutely not acceptable. And frankly, if the retraining and the retesting doesn't show an improvement, then those folks would not be back to service.”
Chief Bashoor said while the crew did transport Rasooly in a timely manner, both county employees had their licenses suspended until they received extra training.
"In this particular case, folks probably weren't as professional as they needed to be. Probably needed a little extra help recognizing that there could have been something else going on there,” Bashoor said.
The chief said that training will be passed on to all employees in his department as well.
"This case is giving us a moment of pause," he said. "To be able to go back and make sure that all of our providers are provided with a little bit extra information about recognition of potential head injury and the types of things that they might think were intoxication."
Rasooly died a few days after the accident from his head injury. Blood tests showed he was not intoxicated.
"By the time we got there, Ilan was no longer talking," his mother said.
And while she says she knows nothing might have saved her son that night from the traumatic brain injury, she can't help but wonder why compassion was missing from his critical care.
"It can't be that when you call people to come help you, the first-responders decide if you're worthy of help," she said. "That's not fair. You think about all the times you take such good care of your children. And here, they had an injury that could kill him, and nobody cared.”