Monday, August 31, 2009

A 911 Deadly Outcome

by Susan Murphy Milano

On January 17, 2008, a handful of strangers witnessed something suspicious and called 911 to report it a North Point, Florida, emergency dispatcher. Several minutes later, the dispatcher received a chilling yet composed 911 call from a woman pleading for her life with an abductor. The woman was on the man's cell phone as he drove her to his home, where he sexually assaulted and later killed her. The woman was 21 years old and the mother of two young sons, and her name was Denise Amber Lee.

Denise Amber Lee is a hero in my book. The daughter of a police detective, she fought back by kicking and screaming in the car, drawing attention to her terrifying ordeal in hopes someone would help. And she thought enough in the midst of a crisis to find a cell phone in her abductor's car and use it to call 911, so an emergency dispatcher could overhear her begging him to let her go. In the process, Denise managed to provide her name and as much information as she could before the call was lost.

Several minutes after Denise’s call, Jane Kowalski, another stranger, called 911 and reported what looked like a child in a car “being held against her will.” Kowalski stayed on the phone with the emergency dispatcher for nine minutes, giving a blow-by-blow account of what she saw until losing sight of the man and woman in the green Camaro. But emergency dispatchers never relayed that call to police officers on the street; Kowalski called during a dispatcher shift change. The two poorly trained dispatchers were later suspended from the police department.

Two days later, Denise Lee's body was found with a bullet to the head, buried in a shallow, sand-filled grave.

During last week's trial, Denise's 911 call was played for the jury. Many others came forward to testify, including Kowalski, a computer consultant from Tampa. What Kowalski saw on that awful day ultimately cost Denise Lee her life. As a witness for the prosecution, Kowalski was able to place abductor and victim together in the car. And when shown random photos at the police station, Kowalski easily identified the abductor: Michael King, 38, an unemployed plumber.

On Friday, after deliberating for two hours, a Florida jury found King guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, and first degree murder. King, who awaits sentencing, faces the death penalty.

This tragedy is a victory for justice as well. People who didn't know Denise Amber Lee took the time to report a crime. Jane Kowalski took matters a step further and followed the car on a hunch something was wrong, without any regard for her own safety. And Denise Amber Lee did everything humanly possible to escape death.


FleaStiff said...

Data centers, nuclear power plants, aircraft maintenance facilities ... it makes no difference: the danger is greatest at shift changes.

Even in the American West, in remote mining operations away from all officials or settlements, it was an immediate discharge to speak to or even approach the elevator operator. On a ships bridge only the officer on watch may approach or speak to the man at the wheel. Certain jobs require concentration and do not allow for distractions.
Though during such a lengthy phone call the operator should have atleast been able to send a message about a 'rolling assault in such and such neighborhood' and get additional units converging and alerted.

Cheryl said...

...and the "call was never relayed from 911 dispatchers to police officers on the street as Kowalski called during the 911 communications SHIFT CHANGE?????".

Are you serious.....they did a SHIFT CHANGE while all this was going on? You have got to be kidding!!!

Stacey's Mom said...

My heart goes out to Denise's family. I can not imagine the sheer terror that Denise endured, up until her death.

As the mother of a murdered daughter, I am grateful to Jane for becomig involved and trying to save the life of someone she didn't know. What a hero! God definitely has a special place for her.

Thank God for the jury as well.

Womens' intuition is powerful. Mothers' instincts are

My daughter Stacey Seaton was murdered on the afternoon on June 1, 2005, and from the moment I got up that morning, until she was murdered I had been extremely unsettled. I didn't want to leave the house, but I did, only to never see Stacey alive again. I drove back and forth in front of our neighborhood park that Stacey loved, looking at it with a feeling of dread, unable to figure out why. She was later murdered there. Other mothers of murdered children have had the same feelings. I tell all moms to go with their instincts!

Ladyred56 said...

While I applaud the verdict on the case and the bravery of these women, this brings yet another problem to light.
I myself have had experience with dispatchers who thought they were GOD.

Many years ago, I called 911 because my children had gone home from school and called me at work to tell me that someone had kicked the door in at our house. My then ex husband had made death threats against me and my kids. Had served time in a psychiatric setting for those threats and other things and had recently been released.

When I called 911 I was told by the dispatcher that they would not take my call because my children had called. She told me I had to leave work and go home and make the call because they did not take calls from kids or people who were not on the site of this type of problem.

I had to run from my work place and drive 2 miles home to make sure that my ex was not there waiting for me or my kids!

I reported this to the chief of police but nothing was ever done.

Cheryl said...

"911 dispatchers never relayed that call to police officers on the street; Kowalski called during a 911 communications SHIFT CHANGE."

They were doing a SHIFT CHANGE??? Did I read this right? You have GOT to be kidding. A SHIFT CHANGE and this woman is obviously in destress? Now I've heard everything??

PS I tried making a similar post earlier but it never came up.

Leah said...

How tragic.....I wonder how extensive 911 training is - being that there seems to have been many horrible outcomes that could have been different if the dispatchers had a little more compassion and an ounce of common sense.

dbcooper said...

Unbelievable. I hope her family sues the departments responsible. Those kids now have to go through life without a mother. A shift change?? Things life shift changes should never happen in 911. All shifts should be staggered. Common sense.

Anny Jacoby, Female Personal Safety Expert said...


Denise did everything that she KNEW in her power and might to FIGHT BACK numerous times during her abduction! Instinctively she embraced her fear to react and respond.


Yes, is it okay to FIGHT BACK!

FleaStiff said...

911 callers often do voice dispatching or data-entry but many times the taking of a call and the dispatching of assistance are separated.
Problems arise with excited callers, incomplete information, ambiguous information, etc. Does 'knife in his back' mean a stabbing or simply a concealed weapon in a sheath? Problems arise from assigning a priority code and from queing on the basis of priority: if you keep taking only high priority calls, nobody ever gets to a lower one.
Mulitiple calls to 911 can clog the system unnecessarily or can contribute greatly.
Often dispatchers fail to obtain critical information: color of the car, color of a man's pants (shirts and jackets are often changed), etc. Sometimes a 911 clerk can obsess about getting an exact address from a caller while ignoring the emergency. Often a 911 clerk can only input a street address but not a general location such as Paradise Mall or something or the clerk can refuse to accept a general location due to prior warnings about getting an address.
These are often civil service positions and basic competence can be questionable and difficult to test. But don't think its just the shift change factor, a casino rotates craps dealers every 20 minutes to avoid collusion, yet those changes are seemless despite a hectic and fast paced game at high stakes. Its how the procedures are set forth and how dedicated the team is. Four day work weeks came about in data centers solely because it resulted in fewer mistakes being made at shift changes.

Leah said...

I'd like to know about the training 911 dispatchers have to go through. It doesn't sound like a heck of a lot considering all the mishaps that have occurred these past several years.

FleaStiff said...

Well, you can administer a typing tests but 911 operators type short sentences in little boxes and then hit Send.
How do you train someone to be sensible? I posted before about the 911 operator who sent a prowl car to a home becaus she thought the little kid on the phone was being sexually abused because he said his father was drilling but later amended the call to an Adult In Need of Assistance because she figured out the kid meant his father was drooling. How do you think the cops in the prowl car felt getting such disparate information enroute to that call?

FleaStiff said...

I've no idea if 911 was involved in that complaint in Antioch about the children living in tents in a backyard but consider how a sheriff's deputy viewed it as a code-compliance matter, never examined the tents or even tried to view them, etc. yet the complaint apparently was about children living there, that he was a sex offender and the fact that the dwellings were concealed.
How many times was the message relayed and summarized?