Overdue bills cut ambulance calls

A dispatch company said Hughson City Councilman Thom Crowder's ambulance crew got no action over the Memorial Day weekend because he hadn't paid a dispatch bill since October, but Crowder denied part of that report Tuesday.

LifeCom, a Salida division of American Medical Response, sent Pro Transport-1 ambulances to Hughson calls over the weekend because Hughson Ambulance Service Co., owned by Crowder, hadn't paid up by 5 p.m. Friday, AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick said Tuesday. No disruption in service resulted, Sorrick said.

Hughson Ambulance's check didn't arrive until late Friday — too late to process, Sorrick said. He didn't know how much Hughson Ambulance had owed or how many calls had been transferred to Pro Transport-1 before resuming Tuesday after the check cleared.

Crowder, who recently had knee replacement surgery, did not deny being late with payments. But an employee told him his company ran about eight calls over the weekend, he said, adding that some might have involved patient transport services that don't require dispatching.

"I'm telling you, we're paid up to date and ran calls all weekend," Crowder said Tuesday.

Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency, which regulates ambulances in Stanislaus and four other counties, was prepared to declare Hughson Ambulance in breach of its contract with Mountain-Valley after receiving notice of nonpayment Friday, executive director Steve Andriese said. But no action was required once the check arrived, he said.

Crowder said the dispatch bill is about $80 per month. He and AMR said Hughson averages two ambulance calls per day.

Pro Transport-1's operations manager said the dispatching company alternates calls between his company and Crowder's. Pro Transport-1 ran more calls than usual over the weekend, he and another company official said, but they didn't know why.

Contract breaches, which can also result from lapsed insurance or worker compensation payments, are rare, Andriese said. His agency maintains backup agreements with competitors or providers from nearby areas, just in case, he said.

Crowder and Councilmen Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley face a recall election in August. The Stanislaus County civil grand jury accused the three of violating state law by conspiring to fire then-City Manager Joe Donabed, and said Crowder violated state law by promising to use political influence while seeking a job.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.