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Human Error Blamed For 911 Delay in SUV Slay of 4-Year Old

Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 11:23 AM

(Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

A damning report released by the city's investigative arm blames 911 personnel -- not a computer glitch -- for a four-minute delay in dispatching an ambulance to a traffic crash scene earlier this year.

In June, four-year-old Ariel Russo and her grandmother were struck by an SUV on Manhattan's Upper West Side. While the first call to 911 was made almost immediately afterwards, an ambulance did not arrive until eight minutes later. Russo was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

A subsequent NYC Department of Investigation probe found staffers at the city's Emergency Medical Dispatch center mishandled the 911 calls related to Ariel. (Read the full report below.)

In a statement, DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said: “We undertook this investigation because of the public safety implications. The evidence showed no technical issues with the system on June 4th; City responses to Ariel ranged from approximately two thorough eight minutes, notwithstanding the mishandling at EMD of the calls related to Ariel."

She added: "Several outages on other dates, which played no role on June 4th, showed the need for added staffing, training and computer hardware.”

The report provides a tick-tock of events surrounding the city's response, and calls out dispatcher Edna Pringle and her supervisor, Stephen Valladares, for failing to respond appropriately to the 911 calls. During her shift that day, the DOI found that Pringle made or received nine cell phone calls. Although the city calls that behavior "stunningly inappropriate," the DOI did not find Pringle to be on her cell phone during the Ariel call.

(According to the report, Pringle had told investigators the Ariel call "was not there," and/or she didn't see it -- a claim the city calls "inexplicable," especially given that the call was "also displayed on many large screens in various areas" in the dispatch area.)

Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg signed the Ariel Russo bill, which changes how the city details 911 response times. Now, response will be measured from the time of the first call to 911 -- rather than from the time it is transferred to a dispatcher.

Ariel Russo's family is suing the city for $40 million.

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