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Questions linger about 911 call

As a woman's choking death is investigated, a dispatch supervisor takes an early retirement.

Published April 6, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - On the evening of March 24, Nancy McGhee choked on a piece of steak.

Her boyfriend called 911.

It's unclear what exactly happened in the next few crucial minutes. By the time an ambulance arrived, McGhee, 37, had been dead for 10 minutes, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.

David Cook, the 911 dispatch supervisor on duty that night, was placed on paid leave - until he abruptly told the county this week that he would take an early retirement.

County officials declined to answer most questions about that night and refused to release the 911 tape of the call because "we are anticipating litigation from the family of the victim," personnel director Barbara DeSimone said.

McGhee's boyfriend, Chris Cooper, said that when she died, he was angry at everyone - the paramedics, the deputies, God.

"Now," he said, "I'm just sad."

* * *

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigates all unexpected deaths. According to its report on McGhee's death, the dispatcher told Cooper how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on McGhee.

When that didn't work, Cooper tried to stick his fingers down her throat to pry out the steak. No good.

DeSimone said the dispatcher who took the call, Jennie Montanino, "did everything she possibly could."

Cook, the dispatch supervisor, was at a nearby desk, but DeSimone refused to say what he did - or didn't - do.

"I don't know if anything they did resulted in the death."

But the next day, a supervisor who routinely reviews the 911 tapes flagged the call for investigation. Cook, 58, was placed on paid leave.

His 18-year tenure with county dispatch has been a mixed bag, according to his personnel file. He received mostly positive performance evaluations, although a 1993 evaluation said he "can sometimes be short with public and field (personnel)" and has "little patience with stupidity." He was promoted to supervisor in 1996, only to be demoted a few months later without any explanation in the file.

He was promoted back to supervisor in 2003. Earlier last month, however, he received a verbal warning for falling asleep twice during a shift.

County officials had planned to meet Thursday to conclude their investigation into the March 24 call and decide Cook's fate - until Cook filed for early retirement, citing "medical reasons."

"We said, okay, that might be the best for everybody," DeSimone said.

* * *

On Thursday evening, Cooper, 46, sat on a dresser in the living room of the Land O'Lakes home he shared with McGhee.

He drank a bottle of Budweiser. He still had on his work clothes - a T-shirt, hat, jeans - his arms and face ruddy. He is a driver for a tractor service, a sheriff's report says, and he said he's been working every day so that he doesn't sit at home and dwell.

"But I still think about it every day," he said.

Cooper wouldn't go into details about exactly what was said during the 911 call. He said he didn't know whether the paramedics took too long to get there because the time seemed unreal.

"You're not thinking about minutes," he said. "You're just trying to do what you can do."

The only thing he said about the 911 call was that the dispatcher kept asking him for his address over and over again, which wasted time. He said he talked to only a woman - there was no man's voice on the phone.

McGhee's mother, Martha, wants to hear the 911 tape.

She wants to know what happened to her daughter.

The mother said McGhee lived a fast life. Now she leaves behind four children of her own, ages, 4, 7, 8 and 16.

"Down through the years, she lived a tragic life," McGhee said, "and she died tragically."

Staff writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this story. Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or

[Last modified April 6, 2007, 00:11:21]

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