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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fulton 911 Response To Sept 22 Call Under Scrutiny

By D.L. BENNETT / www.ajc.com

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Authorities are investigating the Fulton County 911 center’s handling of a Sept. 22 car wreck that left a 21-year-old woman dead.

An ambulance didn’t arrive for about 45 minutes after somebody placed a non-emergency call to the 911 center about a car on the side of the road in North Fulton County.

Milton and Fulton County officials who reviewed the case said Thursday that 911 operators and emergency crews probably handled the call properly.

Erika Blood of Alpharetta, who was studying business office management at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, died Sept. 24 from injuries sustained in the early morning, single-vehicle wreck on Bethany Bend Road in Milton.

The incident has been turned over to consultants who are already reviewing operations of Fulton’s 911 center in the wake of an Aug. 2 operator’s error that delayed help to a Johns Creek woman who later died. Their report is due out next month.

Officials said police didn’t arrive on the scene for more than 20 minutes after the original call because the call came in as non-emergency — a vehicle on the side of the road with its lights on rather than a serious car crash with injuries.

Roberto Hernandez, Fulton’s deputy county manager who oversees 911 operations, said there was an initial delay of “a few minutes” while call takers and dispatchers tried to decide whether the incident occurred in Milton or Alpharetta. The incident was reported on a cellphone, not a land line that can be tracked to a specific address, he said.

Chris Lagerbloom, Milton’s public safety director, said nearly 10 minutes elapsed before the city finally got the call and dispatched help. More than 10 additional minutes went by before a city police officer arrived at the accident scene.

Lagerbloom said the response time was acceptable for a non-emergency call in the early morning hours of a rural community. The officer who arrived first found two seriously injured persons – Blood and an unidentified passenger — prompting an ambulance to finally be sent, officials said.

Both Lagerbloom and Hernandez said they had reviewed the tapes and reports several times and could find no serious error in what happened. Hernandez said Fulton could have resolved whether the wreck happened in Alpharetta or Milton quicker and an ambulance could have been sent on the original call just in case.

“It’s always better to send someone. You can always call them back,” Hernandez said.

Blood’s father, Bill Blood of Alpharetta, declined comment when contacted Thursday night.
Since Oct. 1, Milton’s 911 calls have been handled through the Alpharetta 911 center, not Fulton County.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation of the Fulton County 911 center found more than 1,100 disciplinary actions taken against center employees over five years as well as chronic problems with tardiness, absenteeism and other issues that often led to potentially dangerous mistakes.

— Staff writer Chandler Brown contributed to this report.

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