May 15–FRAZIER PARK — Neighbors say the woman accused of stealing an ambulance, then causing a high-speed wreck that killed her and a truck driver Wednesday in Lebec appeared to suffer from physical and possibly mental illness shortly before a witness placed the 911 call that gave rise to the incident.
Just hours prior the incident, deputies assigned to the Frazier Park substation of the Kern County Sheriff's Office visited her home to check on the well-being of a woman living there. A department spokesman said it was unclear whether the woman was the same person believed to have stolen the ambulance, and he had no further information on the visit.
The deceased woman, who authorities identified Thursday as Frazier Park resident Kristina M. Fort, in her 50s, was seen lying on a dirt road, seemingly exhausted and possibly experiencing an epileptic seizure, just downhill from her home in the 3900 block of North End Drive, said a neighbor who provided only by her first name, Maryann.
After a passersby gave her a ride the short distance to her house, Fort lay motionless in her driveway, prompting Maryann to call 911 with her cellphone. She said Fort lay there until a Hall Ambulance Service crew pulled up shortly before 6 p.m.
But when the ambulance arrived, “she jumped up and went inside the house,” Maryann said. Sheriff's department spokesman Ray Pruitt confirmed Fort ran into the house upon the arrival of a Hall paramedic and emergency medical technician.
Maryann said Fort became “kind of nasty” when she heard the ambulance crew was attempting to contact her father.
“She kept saying, 'You're not taking me away! You're not taking me away!'” said Maryann, adding that she is now sorry she called 911 because of what happened afterward.
The sheriff's department said Fort refused medical treatment when offered by the ambulance crew that had driven over from a station about a mile away. As they were loading equipment into the back of the ambulance, Fort emerged from the home brandishing what a Kern County Fire Department captain described as a buck knife.
The ambulance crew backed away and, just as two county fire department employees arrived on the scene, Fort got in the ambulance and sped off.
“She barreled down that steep driveway,” bottoming out the vehicle several times, fire department Capt. Tyler Townsend said.
Authorities estimate she was driving the ambulance at more than 90 mph east on Frazier Mountain Park Road when she collided with a tractor-trailer taking a left into a Flying J truck stop near Interstate 5.
The driver, identified Thursday as Nelson A. Martinez, 40, of Los Angeles, was killed at the scene. Townsend said Fort was pinned inside the ambulance and had to be extricated. He said she died just before the arrival of an emergency medical helicopter.
“It was a crazy call,” Townsend said. “Pretty wild.”
Fort's nearest neighbor, John Rouser, said she had lived at the home for only about six or seven months, and that he heard little from or about her until two young men and a young woman found her suffering the apparent seizure in the road Wednesday.
“She's always been real quiet. She pretty much keeps to herself,” he said.
Maryann said she feels sorry for Fort's parents, adding “Evidently there was something wrong with her. … It's too bad.”
Fort's modest home lies in one of the town's more remote areas, immediately next to the Los Padres National Forest. An American flag hangs near the front door above a MIA-POW flag. In the yard is a small archery target.
Frazier Park is a usually quiet mountain town with a population of less than 3,000. It is part of a larger community of about 10,000 residents.
Hall Ambulance's director of media services, Mark Corum, said federal law prohibits him from discussing Fort's medical care. But he defended the ambulance crew's actions in front of her home.
Best practices dictate that emergency medical crews leave their vehicle running so there's no question whether it will be ready to go in an emergency, he said, adding that the doors to the ambulance were locked while the Hall employees talked with Fort.
He said Fort was able to enter the vehicle because Hall's crew had unlocked the vehicle in order to put their equipment back inside. That's what they were doing in the rear of the ambulance when she came out brandishing a knife, Corum said.
Wednesday's tragedy is not likely to bring about changes to the company's policies, he added.
“This is the first situation that we've had such as this that I can recall” in his 19 years with the company, Corum said.
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