Human Error Slowed 911 Call Handling in Crash

NEW YORK (AP) -

A 911 dispatcher’s oversight caused a four-minute lag in processing calls to rush an ambulance to the scene of a car crash where a 4-year-old girl was killed, the city’s investigative arm said Thursday.

The response time to the wreck that killed Ariel Russo was ultimately faster than average, but a key step was delayed while the dispatcher didn’t act on information routed to the system she was assigned to monitor, according to the city Department of Investigation report on an incident that has spurred legislative changes to response-time tracking and has fueled a yearslong debate over the city’s 911 system.

The dispatcher has said that the information on the June 4 crash wasn’t in the system or that she didn’t see it, the report said. Emergency dispatch and other union officials have called it a system problem.

But the Department of Investigation concluded the delay “was the result of human error, rather than any issue or technical problem with the [911] system,” a finding that echoed what City Hall and fire officials have said.

Police were chasing an unlicensed 17-year-old driver, who had taken his parents’ car and was driving erratically, when his car jumped a Manhattan curb around 8:15 a.m. He slammed into a building, hitting Ariel and her grandmother.

Police officers were there immediately and began radioing for an ambulance. But while the calls quickly started feeding into the system, dispatcher Edna Pringle didn’t take steps to process the information and took a break around 8:19. A colleague relieved her, noticed the unresolved job at once and immediately began working on it.

An ambulance arrived shortly before 8:24 a.m. In the meantime, a passing firefighter and rescuers from a flagged-down ambulance attended to the unconscious Ariel on the street, but she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.

The report’s recommendations include hiring more dispatchers and providing refresher training. Pringle has been disciplined, the department said.

Overhauled after a 2003 regional blackout, the 911 system has spurred years of contention between the city and unions representing firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers. The unions blame the new system, the administration says it eliminated inefficiencies, and the two sides dispute whether response times have grown or shrunk.

Citing Ariel’s death, the city recently enacted a law requiring the Fire Department to calculate response times from when a call is made, not when a 9-1-1 operator transfers a call to a dispatcher.