WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s non-emergency medical transportation provider has dropped one of its drivers after Target 12 obtained a photo that shows a child crouching on the floor of a packed vehicle.
Lisa Lillie, who was sitting in the backseat of the vehicle, took the photo Monday afternoon and shared it exclusively with Target 12. (The child’s face has been blurred to protect his identity.)
The driver “put everybody’s life in danger in that car,” she said.
Lillie said there were seven people, including the driver, in a five-passenger vehicle. She and two other adults were already in the backseat of the car when the driver picked up the woman and two children in the photo.
“They got in the front seat,” she recalled. “The older boy sat on her lap. The little boy, they put on the floor under the dashboard. His face was right up against it. It was terrible.”
“I was saying to myself, ‘Oh my God, please don’t stop short. Oh my God, somebody please don’t hit me. Don’t hit us. Don’t hit us.’ I was so nervous,” she said.
Like thousands of Rhode Islanders, Lillie relies on Medical Transportation Management (MTM) for rides to and from doctors’ appointments.
The Missouri-based company won a multimillion-dollar state contract in 2018 to handle transportation for qualifying low-income and elderly individuals. It uses a network of dozens of transportation providers to facilitate the rides.
Lillie said she wanted to get out of the car, but had no other transportation and needed to get home because she relies on oxygen, and it was running low.
Lillie said she heard the woman in the front seat of the vehicle call MTM to file a complaint while in the car. Lillie made her own call to complain on Tuesday.
“I want to make sure something gets done about this,” she told MTM.
Within hours of Lillie’s phone call and and Target 12’s inquiry, MTM terminated its contract with Crown Lumesi, the independent transportation provider responsible for the ride.
Phil Stalboerger, MTM’s vice president of public affairs, said the company launched an immediate investigation when Monday’s incident was reported.
“The safety of our members is paramount and we were shocked and appalled to get this complaint and see the picture,” Stalboerger said. “We have zero tolerance for unsafe driving and all of our transportation providers are well aware of the consequences.”
Target 12 tracked down the driver of the vehicle, Abdulfatai Abdulwahab, who is listed as the “operation manager” of Crown Lumesi in records at the secretary of state’s office.
Abdulwahab told Target 12 he was overbooked by MTM.
“I was not supposed to have the lady with the oxygen [Lillie], but she was running out, so MTM asked me to go and get her,” he said Tuesday.
Despite a lack of seats, Abdulwahab said the woman with two children insisted on riding in the car.
“She said she was OK getting in the front seat with her two children,” Abdulwahab said. “I was just trying to help.”
Abdulwahab said he was concerned about safety, but caved to the woman’s pleas.
“She took advantage of my kindness,” he added.
The state gave Abdulwahab a “certificate of operating authority” to operate a public motor vehicle (PMV) in June 2018, according to records obtained by Target 12 from the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.
According to the division’s regulations, “No PMV shall be driven when it is so loaded or when there is in the front seat such number of persons as to obstruct the view of the driver to the front or sides, or to interfere with his control over the PMV. No PMV shall carry more passengers than the manufacturers designed capacity of the vehicle.”
MTM said it is forwarding information about the incident to the Rhode Island State Police, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, and the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
In March, the state slapped MTM with a $1 million fine for its troubled rollout of service in January, including more than 1,000 reported late rides or no-shows.
MTM has also faced scrutiny from the R.I. House Oversight Committee.