Man suing Hawaii says missile alert caused heart attack

HONOLULU (CBS News) -- A man who suffered a heart attack shortly after Hawaii mistakenly issued an alert about a ballistic missile filed a lawsuit against the state on Tuesday. The false missile alert and the state's failure to cancel it in a timely manner was a substantial factor in causing James Sean Shields' heart attack on Jan. 13, the lawsuit said.

His girlfriend Brenda Reichel joined the lawsuit, having suffered "emotional upset" from watching him almost die on several occasions. Their lawsuit names the state of Hawaii and the then-administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Vern Miyagi.

The lawsuit also names unidentified state employees, individuals and entities responsible for the missile alert. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

"We're going to reserve any comment until we have had a chance to review the claims," said Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency State attorney general spokesman Krishna F. Jayaram said the office will review the complaint carefully and respond in due course.

Miyagi declined to comment. A Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee mistakenly sent the missile alert to cellphones and broadcasters on Jan. 13, triggering widespread panic until the agency sent another message 38 minutes later notifying people it was a false alarm.

The lawsuit recounts how the couple was heading from their townhome in Hawaii Kai to Sandy Beach on that Saturday morning when they received the alert on their cellphones. "Both plaintiffs believe this message to be true and were extremely frightened and thought they were shortly going to die," the lawsuit said.

They decided if they were going to die, they might as well die together on the beach, the lawsuit said. Reichel's son, who is in the Hawaii Army National Guard, called her saying the threat was real and asked what they planned to do to seek shelter.

The couple called their loved ones as they drove to the beach. Shields began to feel a severe and painful burning in his chest after he called his son and daughter.

Shortly after, he went to a community clinic, where he suffered cardiac arrest. A doctor resuscitated him, while arriving paramedics assisted him further.

He was diagnosed with a myocardial infarction or heart attack after he arrived at Straub Hospital, the lawsuit said. CBS affiliate KGMB-TV reports that paramedics responded to three other incidents that day that the patients or members of their family blamed on the missile alert.

The other incidents were an 89-year-old man who fell, a 37-year-old woman in a car accident and a 38-year-old woman who was experiencing anxiety, KGMB-TV reports.

Share this article: