BY SOFIA SANTANA | South Florida Sun-Sentinel May 11, 2008
PLANTATION - Driving to the police station in an attempt to seek refuge from a gunman bent on killing her and himself, Olidia Kerr Day made a 911 call from her cell phone that could not save her life.
Some experts said there was nothing the 911 operators who handled the April 25 call could have done to save Day, while others said the operators didn't do enough.
A 911 operator for Sunrise and another for Plantation both handled Day's 3-minute-and-24-second call.
"It seems that the short duration of the 911 call really prevented both dispatchers from devising an appropriate strategy that might have saved Ms. Day," said Gary Allen, who worked as a 911 dispatcher in California for 19 years and currently edits DISPATCH magazine. "It's impossible to say if she would have been safe if she had continued driving. She [Day] made the best choice — drive to the nearest police station."
Robert Krause, an emergency services consultant in Toledo, Ohio, disagrees. He thinks the 911 operators should have told Day to keep driving and should have realized she would have been in danger if she stopped the car.
"It makes common sense to keep driving," he said.
Day, 45, of Plantation, was shot to death as she tried to run to the lobby of Plantation's police station by Carlos Cevallos, 48, of Pembroke Pines, who then killed himself. The two had met weeks earlier, but police said they don't know what kind of relationship they had.
Day, a mother of three, was engaged to be married to another man.
Cevallos barged into Day's home, the two stayed in a bedroom for a short while and then Day ran out of the home and into her car to try to drive to the police station, authorities said. Cevallos followed in his own vehicle, brandishing a pistol.
Day had lived in her Sunrise Heights home in the 6800 block of Northwest 14th Street for about four years, but during her frantic 911 call could not accurately describe where she was in the neighborhood, further complicating the situation for the operators.
Michael Loiz, a public safety consultant and veteran paramedic in Connecticut hired by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to do an analysis of the latest 911 recording, thought the Plantation operator asked Day unnecessary questions that cost precious seconds.
Plantation officials have defended the actions of the Plantation operator, saying she did not break any of the city's policies.
The questions came during this exchange:
"Ma'am. Do you know him?" the operator asks, referring to the gunman.
Day identifies Cevallos by name.
The Plantation operator responds: "Habla Espanol?"
Day: "Si, señora. El es un señor que está enamorado de mi, pero — "
The operator cuts Day off as she explains that Cevallos is a man who is in love with her. Still in Spanish, the operator again asks Day where she is. Day keeps screaming back in English that she wants to know where the police station is and that the operator needs to send officers to her intersection, though Day still isn't able to give her exact location.
"The point at that time is to get her to safety," Loiz said. "How do you know him? Who cares? Little things like that waste time."
Day later shouted that she was on Fifth Street and 70th Street — a wrong location. She may have been on Northwest 70th Avenue, officials said. Despite Day's repeated pleas to the operators for the location of the police station, the operators did not tell her that it was at 451 NW 70th Terrace.
"You want to guide them to some place where there's going to be good lighting and other people, the presumption being that the bad guy might be discouraged," Paul Linnee, a Minneapolis-based emergency services consultant, said of the operators. His current research focuses on issues related to 911 calls made on cell phones.
Neither operator could trace Day's cell phone to find out exactly where she was. All 911 centers in the region have technology that enables such determinations, but it sometimes is spotty with older cell phones, authorities said.
It took about 20 seconds for the Sunrise operator to transfer the call to Plantation. Such delays come from the way telephone companies handle 911 calls from cell phones.
Cell phone 911 calls typically are routed to the 911 center closest to the tower the cell phone signal bounces off, which isn't always in the same area the caller is in. That puts 911 callers at risk because the operator answering the call may not be able to offer immediate help, Linnee said.
"Calls like this are becoming more and more frequent," he said.
Locally, such delays in reaching the right 911 operator are more likely to happen in Palm Beach County, where more than a dozen agencies handle 911 calls, than in Broward, where emergency calls are more centralized and handled by seven agencies.
Staff Writers Dianna Cahn, Brian Haas, Andrew Tran and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
Sofia Santana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org