A Covington County pediatrician said he plans to appeal a conviction in Opp Municipal Court that could impede his ability to practice medicine.
The Opp Police Department charged Dr. Bhagwan Bang with reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road, and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle last September.
0509 bang awardHis case went to municipal court in Opp on Monday, and on Tuesday, Municipal Judge Ronnie Penn found him guilty.
Bang said yesterday he is distraught over the judge’s decision, and will appeal to Covington County Circuit Court.
“On Sept. 8, I got a call that a newborn baby is not breathing,” he said. There was nothing about the pregnancy that indicated problems, he said, but the baby was blue.
“I have seven years of neonatal experience,” Bang said. “I have seen several of these babies.”
His fear, he said, was that the baby had a bilateral rupture of the lung.
“I have saved those babies before by putting needles in the chest, and draining the air,” he said. “That was going first in my mind. I needed to be there.”
Bang is the only attending pediatrician at Andalusia Regional Hospital. On the rare occasions he is out of town, the hospital contracts with a part-time physician to cover the calls, a hospital spokesman said.
Bang readily acknowledges that he was speeding as he left his Opp office headed toward Andalusia, and that he passed cars. He also was in contact with E911, letting them know he was traveling toward a hospital emergency, with his emergency flashers on.
When a law enforcement officer appeared behind him with blue lights, he said, he assumed he was escorting him as a result of his call to 911, and he continued on his way.
But they weren’t escorting Bang. When Bang failed to stop, a second officer joined them on Hwy. 84, and near Pop’s Place, and with one officer in front and one behind, Bang was stopped.
Even though he was on the phone with hospital personnel, he said, the officers detained him and took his license, even threatening to handcuff him. After about 15 minutes, he said, they let him go, but told him to come back for his citations.
Bang was distraught. He still is.
“Several minutes count,” he said. “It could mean a whole life to this child, or making them handicap.”
Bang continued to the hospital, where he helped stabilize the baby. The baby was later transferred to the neonatal unit at Sacred Heart in Pensacola, and died two days later.
Several OB-GYN nurses from ARH testified on his behalf Monday night, telling those in municipal court that Dr. Bang was needed that day, and that he was visibly shaken when he arrived at the hospital.
Also presented in court was a letter from a Sacred Heart neonatalist, who supported Bang’s testimony that the situation was urgent.
“Unfortunately, the cause was different than I thought,” Bang said of the baby. “I was trying to tell (the police) I needed to come there.”
On Friday, Bang’s attorney, David Baker, filed an appeal with a request for a jury trial in Covington County Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, Bang is worried. If the reckless driving conviction isn’t overturned, he will lose his driver’s license for six months.
“Already, there are not enough pediatricians to cover hospitals,” he said. “Without a license, how can I do this?”
“Do they do this to other physicians who are rushing around? If a surgeon is rushing around, trying to get to a bleeding person, will they take their license? Would they do the same thing if it were their child or grandchild there?”
Dr. Ramak Amjad, who is head of the neonatal unit at Sacred Heart, said Friday he knows of another case when neonatal specialists couldn’t get to a child born in Covington County. Because he knew Dr. Bang and his history of having worked in a neonatal unit, he called him.
On that day, Dr. Bang was able to get to the infant, who lived.
Ironically, Amjad had the same thing happen to him while living in the Midwest. He said he was stopped at 3 a.m. while responding to an emergency call. He was ticketed, and the judge who found him guilty told him he was tired of doctors “getting away with things.”
Several months later, the policeman who gave him a ticket had an emergency with his own child.
“I recognized him,” he said. “I didn’t say anything. After the child was OK, I said to him, ‘I do recognize you. Aren’t you glad I sped to get here?’ ”
Opp Municipal Court Prosecutor Larry Grissett referred questions about Bang’s case to the court clerk.
Police Chief Mike McDonald said his department has tried several different tactics to work with Bang and that this is not the first incident; however, he declined to discuss the issue further due to pending litigation.
No court date has been set for the appeal.