At first, Bill and Kristi Anderson felt numb after learning that their 19-year-old son was found frozen to death in southeast Minneapolis the morning after celebrating the end of his first semester of college.
But later, when they brought themselves to view photos of the scene and review reports from paramedics, their questions began to pile up.
Now the Andersons are suing those first responders for negligence, alleging that they failed to deliver appropriate care for Jake in the moments after he was first found along the Mississippi River, still clad in the Santa cap he wore to an ugly sweater party in December 2013. They say they want justice for their son, but also to send a message about emergency protocol in freezing weather — specifically, that it's possible to save lives that may appear lost after hours in the cold.
"We assumed everything was done to save him when they found him," Kristi Anderson said in an interview Monday. "When they come and tell you at 2 in the afternoon that your son is dead, you're presupposing that they have taken every measure to save him."
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Bill and Kristi Anderson allege emergency workers failed to follow protocols that would have called for immediately removing Jake from the cold to an emergency room to try to revive him. Their suit cites several cases where young men or women survived exposure to subzero temperatures for up to 12 hours, despite having no pulse and appearing to be dead.
The couple gathered on Monday with their two other children — Emily, 24, and Luke, 17 — in the downtown Minneapolis office of attorney Robert Hopper. Hopper's office offers a view of the spot where Jake was found — face down, slumped over a metal rail "in a severe hypothermic state" in a remote area near the 10th Avenue Bridge the morning after he was seen leaving a college party about 11:15 p.m. Hopper said Anderson was probably exposed to zero degree temperatures from about 2 a.m. until he was found about six to seven hours later.
According to the lawsuit, Minneapolis fire officials failed to recognize Anderson as a hypothermia victim and declared him dead at 8:57 a.m. after assessing his body for no more than 90 seconds. A Minneapolis fire incident report cited in the lawsuit said Anderson had "no pulse and no breathing and was frozen, indicating obvious death."
But Minneapolis fire "standard operating procedure," the complaint says, stipulates that patients must be "cold in a warm environment" or have signs of "obvious mortal trauma" before being considered deceased.
The suit also blames personnel from Hennepin County Medical Center and Minneapolis police. The respective departments and nearly two-dozen individually named personnel are each being sued by the Orono family for negligence.
"You can't make an evaluation when a person is cold in a cold environment," Hopper said. "You can't summarily pronounce him dead" without taking him indoors for medical care and examination.
Carolyn Marinan, a Hennepin County spokesperson, said Monday that "it is not appropriate for us to comment about pending litigation at this time."
The Minneapolis city attorney's office issued a statement saying: "Jake Anderson's death is tragic. However, first responders in the city of Minneapolis, including fire and police personnel, are not responsible for his death. We can only imagine the grief Mr. Anderson's parents, family and friends are experiencing."
The Andersons are seeking a minimum of $75,000 per plaintiff and "special damages and any and all available" remedies including prohibiting first responders from deviating from enacted protocol in hypothermia cases.
Duluth student survived
Speaking Monday morning, Anderson's family tearfully described how his loss left an emotional hole, especially with the anniversary of his death coinciding with the holiday season. On Sunday, the family marked its third trip to an annual holiday performance at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul without Jake.
Luke also remembered spending the night before Jake's ugly-sweater party whipping around in his older brother's car in a snowy Orono High School parking lot.
He said he saved a video of that night on his phone, before becoming emotional at the memory of this year's first snowfall.
"I just had to go alone," Luke said.
Among several other cases of young people who survived long exposure to the cold, including some who had no pulse, Jake's family points out that just a week before his death, another young college student, Alyssa Lommel, was found frozen in Duluth by a passerby. She had been exposed to minus-17 degrees for more than nine hours. Emergency personnel immediately took her to a hospital, and she survived.
"She was found by people who cared," Bill Anderson said. "Everybody who lived through hypothermia was found by somebody who cared about them and did something about it."