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New EM Director named in wrongful death lawsuit

By Clint Parker

Buncombe County – Buncombe County, only a few weeks ago, made the announcement that the position held by longtime Emergency Management Director Jerry VeHaun, but that had recently been vacated due to his retirement, had been filled.

However, it wasn’t any of VeHaun’s deputies who was picked for filling the position, but according to the county’s press release, “After a rigorous, nationwide search yielding many highly qualified candidates” they proudly “announce that Van Taylor Jones” would be the next director of Emergency Services effective Jan. 21.”

The release did go on to tout Jones’ record from Anderson County, South Carolina, “where he served as Emergency Services Director for almost 12 years. His more than 30 years of professional and volunteer experience covers a broad range of topics from disaster preparedness to fire services.” What the release did not say was that Jones was named in a 2018 wrongful death lawsuit involving a six-year-old school student. Along with Jones, the suit also listed the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and the agency Jones headed.

What the press release failed to mention was a tragic school shooting that occurred in the Anderson County, resulting in a student’s death while Jones was Emergency Management Director. It also failed to mention the criticism Jones received as head of the agency along with the resulting wrongful death lawsuit over the death of six-year-old Jacob Hall.

According to an article in the State newspaper on August 28, 2018, life-saving trauma kits were donated to the school system two years before the shooting but were never distributed to the schools.

The article stated that in 2014, “Tactical Medical Solutions offered to provide bleeding-control trauma kits – also known as “Stop the Bleed: kits – along with training on how to use the kits, to each of the Anderson County school districts, according to the complaint” in the lawsuit.

The article states the kits were presented to Jones, who was the director of EMS at the time and were “left in Jones’ custody but were not delivered to any Anderson County schools until after” the shooting, “two years after they were donated.”

Hall was shot in the leg says the article, “and suffered ‘a tremendous amount of blood loss’ before being airlifted to a hospital, but teachers and the school nurse had only a scarf and paper towels to try to stop the bleeding, according to the lawsuit.”

Buncombe County was asked if they knew about the criticism of Mr. Jones for not distributing the trauma kits to schools and which resulted in a lawsuit. Kassi Day, a Communications Coordinator with the county, said, “Mr. Jones disclosed the lawsuit and the County did a comprehensive background and reference check.” According to Jones’ employment records with Anderson County obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Jones left his more than $100,000 a year job in May of 2019 after the lawsuit had been filed. According to Day, Jones was hired for Buncombe County’s EM director’s position at $125,000 annual.

Asked to explain the hiring process of the new emergency service director (was it by a board or committee, who had the final say), Day said, “The county held an open, nationwide, competitive recruitment process for the position of Emergency Services Director. The position was advertised for two weeks and resulted in over 30 candidates. The interview process was a rigorous assessment that included participants from Emergency Services partnerships from across the county. The final decision was made by County Manager Pinder in consultation with the direct supervisor Assistant County Manager Wesley.”

The Tribune has learned that the “participants from Emergency Services partnerships from across the county” comprised of two interviewing boards, and, according to one source, neither of the boards recommended Jones, but an employee already at the county EM department. Day, asked about the interview process said, “I can confirm that we included several partners from across the county in our interview process. The Manager solicited feedback from the participants throughout the process.”

Asked if the county commissioners were informed before the final selection and, if so, did they have a say in the hiring, Day said, “The commissioners were notified after the selection decision was made and in advance of the public announcement. The final hiring authority lies with the County Manager.”

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