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In Southfield, a 'thorough investigation' into how woman declared dead returned to life

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Southfield — A Southfield woman was declared dead Sunday and her body transported to a Detroit funeral home before anyone realized she was still alive. 

The Southfield Fire Department responded to a 911 call at about 7:35 a.m. Sunday. A  20-year-old woman was reported as being unresponsive, authorities said. Fire Chief Johnny Menifee declined to say Monday where in town the 911 call came from, citing privacy concerns, but said it was from a private home.

Medics tried "life-saving efforts" on the woman for about a half-hour, Menifee said. Despite it all, she showed "no signs of life."

Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee

A "local emergency department physician" pronounced the woman dead "based upon medical information provided by the Southfield Fire Department at the scene," according to a press release Monday afternoon from the Southfield Fire Department. 

"After which, the Southfield Police Department contacted the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office to notify them of the findings and the on-duty forensic pathologist released the body to the family," the press release reads. 

Menifee initially said Monday that the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office pronounced the woman dead.

Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Oakland County, told The News it was only after the woman was determined to be dead that the fire department reached the medical examiner.

Based on the specifics of the case, and the person's known medical history, the medical examiner can decide whether to take custody of the body and conduct an autopsy or to release it to the family.

On Sunday it released the body to the family, Mullan said.

The James H. Cole Home for Funerals says it was then contacted to pick up the woman.

The funeral home noted "it is our practice not to comment on open investigations," but did release a brief statement Monday.

The Cole funeral home says it was contacted to pick up the woman's body and received clearance from the medical examiner's office to do so.

"Upon her arrival at the funeral home, our staff confirmed she was breathing and called EMS," the statement said.

Detroit Fire Department medics arrived at the funeral home at 16100 Schaefer, south of McNichols, and found the woman breathing, with a heart rate of 80, said Dave Fornell, deputy commissioner of the department.

"We couldn't believe it," Fornell said.

Medics transported her to a hospital, where she remains.

Southfield Fire Department will investigate the matter, Menifee said.

"The City of Southfield is currently conducting a thorough internal investigation in addition to the Oakland County Medical Control Authority (OCMCA) which will be reporting their findings to the State of Michigan Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness (BETP)," according to a press release from the Southfield Fire Department. 

Providence Hospital in Southfield is part of the Ascension Health system. On Monday, Ascension declined comment, citing medical privacy laws.

"In accordance with applicable state and federal laws, we cannot comment publicly on specific patient related matters," the company said in a statement.