911 operators have one of the most important jobs in law enforcement: Sorting through the many frivolous calls they receive, calmly talking people through real-life emergencies and getting them help. This year will see Halle Berry play a heroic 911 operator in “The Call.” As heroic as 911 operators may seem at times, they are after all just people. People who can make mistakes — mistakes that can kill.
Jeep Submerged, 911 System in Hot Water
Forty-three minutes. That’s how long authorities say it took for a Little Rock, Arkansas, water rescue team to arrive at the scene of a submerged SUV. A shocking breakdown of communication that led to the drowning death of 39-year-old Jinglei Yi and caused serious injury to her son Leo, 5.
In the early morning January 16, Yi’s car slid on a patch of black ice and landed in a body of water off Cooper Orbit Road. At 7:57 am she called 911 and explained her situation: I feel the water is in the car right now,” she cried. The 911 operator assured her that help was on the way.
However, that distress call was never put into the system that dispatches police and fire departments to a scene. A private ambulance company arrived on the scene first, but could do nothing to rescue the Yis from their submerged car. The mistake was discovered after those paramedics called 911 to verify rescue teams were on the way. Since those rescue teams were not called to the scene until roughly a half-hour after the incident, the victims were in terrible shape when finally removed from the water. Although the mother could not be saved, young Leo was brought to a hospital and put on a ventilation tube. A week later, he began breathing on his own but still remains hospitalized.
Little Rock authorities are investigating the tragic incident. The 911 operator involved has been suspended with pay pending the investigation’s findings.
Murdered on 911 Call
It was August 17, 2012 and Deanna Cook was attacked in her own home by her ex-husband Delvecchio Patrick and called 911. For 11 minutes, Cook screamed for mercy and then gasped for air as her life slipped away. The 911 dispatcher never mentioned that the attack the was in-progress, so Dallas police responded as if it were a run-of-the-mill domestic argument rather than a life-or-death situation: Officers knocked on the door of the apartment and left when there was no answer.
Compounding their initial mistake, Dallas 911 took another black eye two days later when the family called from outside the locked apartment to ask for a police welfare check. The 911 operator told her they’d have to search hospitals and jails before a police officer could be sent. Instead, the family kicked the door down themselves. Cook’s body was found by her own daughter.
System error or human error?
In June of last year, Fred Langley, 73, of Kathy Lane in Temple, a town in West Georgia, suffered a diabetes attack leading to a fall that rendered him unconscious. His family called 911 and waited. And waited. It turns out that dispatchers sent EMTs to the same Kathy Lane address, but in Carrollton, Georgia — nine miles away. They realized their mistake too late; Langley did not recover.
District Commissioner Ashley Hendrix blamed the mishap on the E-911 system in place in Carroll County: “I’m sure people will say it’s human error, but I beg to differ… We have a system that was recently upgraded… and I said… it was going to cost someone his life.”
Hendrix believes that when the the 911 dispatcher entered the address, the correct town never popped up on screen. Other Carroll County officials disagree: they fired the 911 operator at fault and mandated more training for all remaining 911 dispatchers.
Two calls in one Apartment Complex Equals Death
Matthew Sanchez didn’t live to see his 21st birthday because his friend’s 911 call was mistakenly conflated with an earlier call to the same apartment community.
On November 16, 2012, Sanchez and his friend Samuel Kim were hanging out and taking drugs (Sanchez was popping Xanax while Kim smoked marijuana). When Sanchez passed out, Kim called 911 and left the scene because he thought he had an outstanding warrant and wanted to avoid police.
Sadly for Sanchez, another resident in the complex had called 911 eleven minutes earlier and the fire-rescue team believed the two calls were for the same incident. Sanchez was found dead in the apartment six hours later. Dallas officials blamed the mishap on Kim for not staying at the scene to make sure paramedics arrived at the correct address.
Fake 911 Call Turns Deadly for Caller
No 911 operators harmed anyone in this last story, but it’s too crazy not to include. On October 2, 2009, Melissa Farris called in a fake emergency to 911 in Caldwell, Idaho, in order to lure paramedics out of the firehouse so she could sneak in and grab prescription drugs.
Farris, however, got herself trapped underneath the fire station’s garage door. With no EMTs on scene to help her, she ultimately died of her crushing injuries. A cautionary tale for would-be 911 pranksters.