SF man collapsed and died outside de Young Museum after friend denied life-saving device

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Friday, November 3, 2023
Man calls for AED availability after friend died outside SF museum
A man tragically collapsed and died in Golden Gate Park, but his friend rushed to the de Young Museum where he says he was denied a defibrillator.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In San Francisco, one man is making it his mission to ensure life-saving defibrillators are always available when they're needed.

This comes after staff inside the de Young Museum didn't share theirs while a man was having a medical emergency outside.

Tim O'Brien says this was a case of life and death, where seconds count. When his friend collapsed at Golden Gate Park, O'Brien ran for help. He asked to borrow a life-saving device but was denied.

It was a Sunday filled with music and swing dancing at Golden Gate Park.

Gary Hobish was there like he was every Sunday for the Lindy in the Park event.

Friends say he suddenly collapsed and hit his head.

That's when O'Brien ran for help.

"As soon as people saw that, they found a medic, they found a nurse," he said. "They realized his heart had stopped and so they started doing CPR. I knew what we needed, but didn't have. So, I ran to the de Young Museum which is the closest building nearby to see if they had an AED."

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O'Brien says the museum was just feet away.

"About 100 feet away. I closed the distance in about 30 seconds," said O'Brien.

O'Brien got to the front counter and asked for an "AED."

According to O'Brien, the staff member didn't know what that was.

O'Brien turned and asked a security guard and was directed to the basement.

He asked a staff member there to borrow the defibrillator.

Gary Hobish dancing at Lindy in the Park.
Gary Hobish dancing at Lindy in the Park.
kenneth Wantanabe

"As soon as he hesitated handing it to me, I said, 'Here's my watch, my wallet; here's everything from my pockets. You can have it all,'" said O'Brien.

That employee called a supervisor as O'Brien worried about his friend and his medical emergency.

"I thought-'He's dying. His heart has collapsed. We are doing CPR at the moment. We have a nurse here doing this. We need this immediately. Can you run?' He's like 'I need to check in.' We got the 'no'," said O'Brien.

He ran back to his friend empty-handed.

O'Brien said paramedics arrived about the same time he did and tried to save Hobish but he died.

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Bonnie Levinson was there and is heartbroken at the turn of events.

"He was very talented. He was very dear to my heart. I'm still in shock right now," said Levinson. "Everyone knew him in the Lindy Hop scene; everyone knew him -the Bay Area progressive rock fans-- as well as the country."

Levinson didn't realize all that O'Brien tried to do to secure that AED.

"It's horrible it's really unbelievable. And I don't know if it would have made a difference. Of course, it might have and that is heartbreaking," said Levinson.

Thursday afternoon, a de Young Museum spokesperson released this statement saying in part:

"When asked for help after Mr. Hobish collapsed, staff at the de Young Museum tried to determine the best response they could make within museum policy as they understood it, running out to the park to assess what was happening.

When they reached the scene, within 5 minutes of the initial request, they found that an ambulance was already at the scene, which they informed the individual who had made the request.

This unprecedented and tragic incident has prompted us to review our procedures for emergencies that happen in the park outside the museum."

O'Brien believes that the defibrillator could have saved his friend's life. He says businesses should re-evaluate their policies if the devices aren't allowed off the premises. And, he believes they should better train staff.

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