Former Paramedic and Flight Nurse Receives One Year in Prison for Tampering with Ketamine Vials
United States Attorney Richard W. Moore of the Southern District of Alabama announces today that United States District Judge Jeffrey U. Beaverstock sentenced defendant Bryan Heath Wester, 43, a resident of Springville, Alabama, to imprisonment for 12 months and one day for tampering with a consumer product. As part of the sentence, the judge ordered that Wester undergo three years of supervised release after finishing his term of imprisonment, pay a $100 mandatory special assessment, receive substance abuse and mental health treatment as directed by the U.S. Probation Office, and pay restitution totaling $511.48 to a patient-victim in the case.
On January 31, 2019, a federal grand jury for the Southern District of Alabama charged Wester with one count of tampering with consumer products in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1365(a). On April 26, 2019, Wester pleaded guilty to the charge. He faced up to ten years imprisonment.
Wester admitted to the following facts at his plea hearing. He was previously a licensed nurse and a paramedic who worked for an air ambulance service in Demopolis, Alabama. On August 26, 2018, Wester, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death and bodily injury, and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to such risk, tampered with ketamine hydrochloride (ketamine), a consumer product that was manufactured outside of Alabama and affected interstate commerce. Wester accessed the controlled substances box inside a locked safe located on board an emergency helicopter, removed ketamine from two vials, and replaced the removed ketamine with saline, knowing that the ketamine was intended to be administered via injection to critically ill and injured patients being transported by helicopter for emergency treatment.
On August 27, 2018, a critically injured patient required air transport to Mobile, Alabama. The patient had been run over by a cow and suffered head trauma and loss of consciousness. The on-board nurse attempted to administer ketamine. The vial appeared to have a blue glue on the cap. When the needle was inserted, the vial did not appear to be vacuum sealed. The nurse administered the dose but it did not have the anticipated effect. The nurse then obtained a second vial of ketamine and found that the cap had been glued on.
On August 30, 2018, a special agent with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Office of Criminal Investigations interviewed Wester, who admitted to removing ketamine from two vials on August 26. According to his statements, around midday on August 26 Wester asked another nurse on duty for the nurse’s set of keys to the locked narcotics on the helicopter, telling the other nurse that he would do the equipment check. The nurse gave Wester the keys. Wester opened the safe and did not lock one side back. The two-key lock system allowed Wester to return later with his own keys and access the safe. Later that evening, Wester went out to the helicopter, withdrew the ketamine from two vials, and replaced it with saline. Wester re-glued the tops of the vials with dermabond. There was a zip-tie securing the plastic narcotics box inside the safe; Wester cut the zip-tie off and replaced it with a new one. Wester also changed the number in the logbook to reflect the new number. The old number ended in a “2.” Wester changed it to a “1.”
At today’s sentencing, District Judge Beaverstock underscored that Wester had abused his position of trust treating vulnerable patients and that Wester was no longer working as a paramedic and flight nurse as a result of the offense conduct.
After sentencing, U.S. Attorney Moore stated, “Health care practitioners take an oath to treat the injured and vulnerable among us. This defendant brazenly violated that oath and has been held accountable for his criminal conduct. I commend the FDA for investigating this important case.”
“FDA is fully committed to the vigorous criminal prosecution of any individual who threatens the safety and security of the U.S. drug supply,” said Justin Fielder, Acting Special Agent in Charge, FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations’ Miami Field Office. “The sentencing in this case should send a clear signal that this kind of illicit tampering activity will not be tolerated.”
FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations investigated the case. Assistant United States Attorney Sinan Kalayoglu prosecuted the case.