911 dispatcher fired after man found dead in Gary church

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GARY, Ind. -- A 911 Lake County dispatcher has been fired another dispatcher has been suspended after a man was found dead in a Gary church last Saturday.

The head of the Lake County 911 center says the dispatchers were disciplined because their handling of the call was “unacceptable.”

44-year-old Burt Sanders first call for help came in just after 2 a.m. Saturday morning. Dispatcher Sherrie Williams got the off duty transit officer’s 911 call. He gave her his address and said he was having chest pains.

Sanders family says after a Friday night service at his father’s church he planed to do some handy work and work on a sermon when he felt those chest pains hit.

Williams instructed him to find the door so responders could get to him.

But sanders didn’t make it to the door. His father says he died near the rear of the church with his phone lying on the floor.

During the seven minute call you can hear Williams calling out to Sanders but other than moaning, Sanders is not heard from him again. The next dispatch is from the ambulance crew to radio dispatcher Vanessa Reese. Reese says they checked the doors and got no answers. She says they saw a vehicle but did not find anyone.

Reese was suspended for three days as part of the fallout.

The head of the Lake County 911 center tells WGN News, Reese was suspended because she should have called in the fire and police department to break down this door and get Sanders the help he needed.

He also said Williams was sent a certified letter saying she was fired earlier this week. He also says she was fired after six years on the job for not telling the radio dispatcher how urgent sanders 911 call was.

As for the Sanders family, they are putting their faith in God to get them through this and the suspension and firing means little.

Along with being a transit officer, Sanders also was a Gary police officer and served in the National Guard.

Funeral arraignments have been made with services scheduled for both Sunday and Monday in Gary.

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6 comments

  • Samantha

    Did nobody proof read this? There are spelling and grammatical errors an elementary student would have no problem finding.

    I am truly sorry for this family’s loss. It could have been prevented.

  • WWJS75606

    Who has the right to authorize the breaking into a building? Does 911 operator have the say-so? Is it up to the first responder? What would be the repercussion of an operator to tell them to it must be bad go ahead and break in. Sounds like there should be a certain procedure to allow first responders to break into a building. Had the person already left with someone else? Who would be in trouble if that had been the situation and they broke into the building? Sounds like there needs to be a policy to address this type situation.

    • jamieht71

      There are protocols in place to handle situations like this. Had the proper responders (fire and police along with ambulance) been sent, the decision would have been made by them to make entry by whatever means necessary. Since the call originated from this building there would be probable cause to break the door down in order to gain access to the patient and wouldn’t have mattered if patient had already left the scene because that’s the last known location for the patient. Sending the proper responders takes that decision off of the dispatcher and she would still have a job and the patient might still be alive. Hope this answers your question.

      • Fireemt4free

        I’m sorry, the dispatchers should not be fired. Now, I’m going by the standards where I work so before all you others go bashing, know it’s by my standards. If EMS was sent there, patrols should’ve been sent as well. Our fire dept doesn’t run EMS calls so if they’re needed, they should’ve been requested by the units on scene. Then the dispatch could’ve sent them. It can’t be the dispatcher’s responsibility to know what’s going on on scene. That’s why you have a command structure and proper protocols set up. If there was any request to force entry, the EMS on scene should’ve requested proper equipment. Going through EMT class they always say in your scene size up – are any other resources needed? Sad it had the bad turnout, but it shouldn’t be the dispatchers’ fault. They aren’t on scene.

      • jerry

        If you re-read it, it says call came from his cell phone. Most cell phones will only give a location of the cell tower it hit from. That being said, the EMS unit should have requested a police unit for forced entry. If the call taker had an open line then possibly could have heard the medics at the door, pounding. That would have possibly validated the location of the caller. It’s a bad situation that compounded itself through a calamity of errors. In a perfect world, no errors would ever happen. We are all human.