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December 13, 2018

Hawaii man who suffered heart attack after false missile alert sues state

November 28, 2018
An accidental missile threat warning was sent in early January. (Caleb Jones / AP)

A man and his girlfriend are suing the state of Hawaii, claiming that the false missile alert in January caused him to have a heart attack.

James Sean Shields and Brenda Reichel filed the suit against the state and Vern Miyagi, the former head of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Tuesday.




The plaintiffs claim they were driving from Reichel’s house in Hawaii Kai to the beach around 8 a.m. on Jan. 13. At 8:07 a.m., they each got an alert on their phone: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS T A DRILL.”

“Both plaintiffs believed this message to be true and were extremely frightened and thought they were shortly going to die,” the lawsuit says. “They decided that there was not much they could do to protect themselves from this threat and decided that if they were going to die, they might as well die together on the beach.”

Reichel’s son, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, called his mother and told her the threat was real, according to the lawsuit.

At that point, the couple claimed, they began calling loved ones to say goodbye.

“Shortly after calling his son and daughter, Shields began to feel a severe and painful burning in his chest area,” according to the suit.

Shields and Reichel went to the local medical center and arrived just before 9:30 a.m., never having seen the follow-up notification that the warning was a false alert.

At the hospital, doctors confirmed that Shields had suffered a heart attack.

His doctor, cardiologist Dr. John MacGregor, said in the lawsuit that “the warning there was an imminent missile attack about to hit Hawaii was a substantial contributing factor in causing the heart attack and cardiac arrest.”

Reichel also claims she “suffered emotional upset observing her boyfriend suffer from a heart attack and almost die on several occasion.”

The state of Hawaii took 38 minutes to correct the botched alert, which was sent by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency worker who thought an emergency drill was real.

An internal investigation found that “insufficient management controls, poor computer software design and human factors contributed” to the accidental alert.

Miyagi resigned after the debacle.

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