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Dispatch at fault for man's death

Published April 19, 2007


SPRING HILL - With his 75-year-old stepfather growing seriously ill Tuesday afternoon, a distressed Spring Hill man dials 911.

"My dad. He's been ... he's been sick. Really bad," the 35-year-old son tells Hernando County Sheriff's Office dispatcher John Ellis.

Ellis logs the emergency and calls for an ambulance. But this quick action leads to a mixup.

No ambulance is ever sent to the Wellington Road home. After waiting 13 minutes, the son tried to drive his stepfather to get help. He makes it to a walk-in clinic 5 miles away where his stepfather collapses.

Minutes later, the elderly man is pronounced dead at Spring Hill Regional Hospital.

The incident is raising questions about the dispatch protocols just 17 days after the county changed the emergency response system. Before April 2, Spring Hill Fire Rescue handled all medical emergency calls. Now, county calls are taken separately.

Hernando County Sheriff's Office and fire officials met with the son Wednesday morning to apologize. Sheriff Richard Nugent said the incident is under investigation. Nugent would not identify the man who died or the members of the man's family.

"We want to assume responsibility for this," said Hernando County Fire Chief Mike Nickerson.

Bill Kicklighter, the Sheriff's Office director who oversees the dispatchers, blamed the incident on "human error."

He explained how it happened:

Ellis failed to see a message on the dispatch screen telling him to forward the 911 call to the Spring Hill Fire Rescue office. Instead, he sent the call at 3:09 p.m. to Paul George, a dispatcher for the Hernando County Fire Rescue.

George recognized that the call had been sent to the wrong place. He yelled to Ellis to transfer the call to Spring Hill Fire Rescue. Ellis, who was still on the phone with the caller, never heard George. George didn't wait to get the required acknowledgement and he canceled the call for a Hernando County ambulance.

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 07:47:14]

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