Authorities in Fredericksburg, Virginia, are currently investigating case of an ignored 911 call that led to a man’s death earlier this year.
Robert Paulus dialed the emergency number in April, three days before his family found his dead body. The 56-year-old was suffering from a heart disease and the call was reportedly placed hours before the determined time of death, but the help never arrived because the dispatcher mistook the plea for assistance as an unfortunate pocket dial.
“The communications officer did not hear any breathing, movement, or noise for her to believe that the caller was in distress,” said Fredericksburg police spokeswoman Sarah Kirkpatrick, according to The Washington Post. “She therefore assumed it was a pocket dial, which happens daily in the call center. After staying on the line for an appropriate amount of time and not hearing anything alarming, the communications officer initiated the hang-up.”
A family member discovered the call log while going though Paulus’ phone, which prompted an inquiry into the matter.
The 24-second long released by the authorities (posted below) only features the dispatcher’s voice, who attempted to establish contact thrice during the call but remained unsuccessful.
Whereas disconnecting a 911 call warrants a call back, the protocol is much different for butt dials, which are quite common. Apparently, dispatchers receive over 4,000 such calls every year.
“If a communications officer receives a call and there is no noise, the communications officer will attempt to make verbal contact several times,” Kirkpatrick added.
After a dispatcher fails to make contact and is unable to hear anything, they have the authority to hang up.
“This was an unfortunate oversight that the Fredericksburg Police Department is taking seriously,” Kirkpatrick added. “We are investigating the incident internally and reviewing protocol on how we determine if a call was received by our call center. We will be making changes moving forward to ensure this does not happen in the future.”
If successful, the investigation could possibly lead to some changes in 911’s emergency protocol in such situations.