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Former Tucson paramedic killed while working in Ukraine

Posted at 9:55 PM, Apr 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-26 15:36:55-04

An American paramedic killed after an explosion in Ukraine previously worked in Tucson.

Joseph Stone, 36, was with the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe (OSCE) when he died Sunday. The agency says he was a paramedic with the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). The SMM is an unarmed, civilian mission that helps to stabilize the region and work to reduce tensions throughout Ukraine.

According to a release from the OSCE, Stone was with two monitors of the mission when "...their vehicle was heavily damaged by an explosion near Pryshyb in the non-government controlled Luhansk region." The two other people Stone was with were taken to the hospital.

Experts say for the past few years this particular area of Ukraine has been a war zone between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukranian government. Almost 10,000 people have died in the conflict, USA Today reports.

While the investigation into the incident continues, the OSCE reports the vehicle possibly came in contact with a mine.

Before working in the Ukraine Stone was a paramedic in Tucson. Jackie Evans, the operations manager for American Medical Response in Southern Arizona, says in 2003 Stone was hired by what at the time was called Southwest Ambulance.

Stone began as a basic EMT, then was a paramedic and worked with the company for about 9 years. He is originally from Tucson.

Stone's brother, Matthew Stone, says his brother also worked in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He was one of the really good ones," Matthew said. "The world's a lot darker without him."

Stone grew up in Tucson and at one point lived in Phoenix. He attended Pima Community College. 

From a young age, Stone was interested in becoming a firefighter and paramedic. Matthew says the family called him "Bobby," as he is named after an uncle with the same name. That same uncle was also a firefighter and paramedic, and Matthew says Stone took after him.

Family and friends say Stone was an avid news watcher, and always knew what was going on in the world. He loved to talk about politics and other current events.

A GoFundMe page was created by a family friend to pay for Stone's services. 

While Stone's family wants a clear, transparent investigation into his death, for now they want people to know how he lived.

"Everywhere he went he helped somebody. If he could do a little bit extra for somebody, he would go the extra mile," said Stone's older brother, Adam Ziolecki. "If he saw somebody that was in need or trouble he would help them out with the best of his ability without being asked. It's just the way he was."

Aaron Haworth with Rural/Metro Fire worked with Stone for years. While talking about the passing of his friend, Haworth said it was surreal to be referring to him in past tense. 

"He wasn't a thrill seeker, he wasn't in it for the ego or the glory or the drama," Haworth said. "He really was that guy that would kind of just do the job and gut it out because it was his duty, you know. And I really honor him for that."

"He gets to be a hero, he gets to be somebody that has that honor and he earned that," Haworth said.

Stone was a "fixture" in Haworth's life. Sometimes though life gets in the way, and Haworth said it had been a few years since he had seen Stone. They always kept in touch on Facebook, where Stone was often vocal about his opinions. 

When someone had to step up to do a tough or dangerous job at the fire department, Haworth says Stone would always volunteer.

"He was a hardworking guy like that. He meant it," Hawroth said. "I don't think he got enough credit for that."

Below is a statement from OSCE Chairperson Sebastian Kurz:

"Immediately after the incident became known, I spoke with SMM Chief Monitor Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan to assure him of the full support of the Austrian OSCE Chairmanship in these hard times. SMM is doing an outstanding job, day by day, to stabilize the crisis in and around Ukraine. But the mission is too often hampered by threats, by access restrictions, by disinformation or the destruction of its technical means. This is simply unacceptable. All circumstances of this tragic incident must be clarified without hindrance. I urge all actors that have an influence on the situation on the ground to live up to their responsibility in guaranteeing safety and security to the SMM."