January 2008 was a dark and tragic time for the family of Denise Amber Lee. A man later identified as Michael King, 36, forced his way into the Lee family home as Denise, then 23, was alone with her two young boys. King told Denise to place her two young sons into a crib under the threat that he would kill her children if she refused to comply. King then made Denise leave with him and she did as he ordered; anything to protect her boys. Denise was bound and shoved into the back seat of King's green Camaro. He took her to his house and brutally raped her for hours, forced her back into his Camaro, and visited a cousin asking for a shovel and several other tools. King's cousin could hear Denise cry for help and did nothing, as he handed King the tools he needed to complete his evil plan that began the day he targeted the young and vibrant Mrs. Lee. Michael King drove Denise to a remote area of town and ended her life with a single bullet to the head. Denise Lee was left, buried in a shallow grave. King then fled the scene, bringing to an end a beautiful life and leaving her husband Nathan Lee, her beloved boys, and many friends and her close knit family to live the rest of their lives without the joy of her loving presence.
That story, in itself is a tragedy that changed the lives of her family and friends for all time, but that is sadly not even close to the end of the story.
Sharon Villatoro was alone and deathly ill on November 21, 2009. Sharon had a reaction to medication that caused unbearable symptoms. Sharon experienced the side effects of an allergic reaction; the feeling of her skin crawling, she felt as if her face was burning and her throat began swell, cutting off her oxygen supply and making it impossible to speak. Sharron eventually died, unable to breathe, in an episode that took place in mere minutes of complete terror as she helplessly watched her life slip away; Sharon Villatoro was 42. The sad event took place in the same small Florida town that Denise Amber Lee was murdered. Sharon was the single mother of four children under the age of fifteen. Three of her children were adopted siblings. Now her children face Christmas alone, their mother taken from them far too soon and without reason.
Just days ago, December 16, 2009, Brian Wood, 55, died. As Brian drove down a remote road he struck a light standard and was found sixteen hours later, dead and alone, lying next to his vehicle. Brian was a popular local business owner of Suncoast-V Twin Motorcycle Shop in North Port, Florida, from the same town Denise Lee and Sharon Villatoro had lived. He left behind many friends and loved ones. Many believe Brian could have been saved.
North Port is a small, thriving bedroom community in Southwest Florida. The tight knit community was reeling from the loss of three of its best when they lost Denise, Sharon and Brian. The fact that every single one of these people could and should have been saved is the horrific tragedy that connects the three deaths. The culprit is one you may never imagine; they died horribly due to unforgivable errors by 911 Emergency personnel.
Denise Lee not only managed to contact a 911 operator by miraculously getting a hold of King's cellular phone, but she also had an eyewitness who followed King's car for blocks. Eyewitness, Jane Kowalski, explained in great detail all she observed as she kept pace with King's car; Denise still bound and bruised in the back seat. Her quick thinking and precise directions should have made all the difference. For a reason that defies understanding, the 911 operator never reported Jane's call to police. The police were already aware Denise was missing and they even had a description of King's green Camaro. Jane drove next to King and Denise as she stayed on the phone with 911 and continued to report all she observed to the operator, she then watched helplessly as King turned away at an intersection and onto a well known road. She told the operator exactly where King turned and what direction he was going. She watched the Camaro drive away with Denise still pleading for help. Michael King turned away from Jane Kowalski onto the very street that Denise was later discovered, dead, violated, battered and buried in a shallow grave with a bullet in her head. The 911 operator responsible for the call was placed on paid leave after the incident came to light.
Sharon Villatoro called 911, in a desperate plea for help. She was very aware that her life was rapidly slipping away and needed immediate care; she was also aware she needed Benadryl and was ordered by the dispatcher not to "eat or drink' anything because it might cause her to "get sick and cause problems for the doctor". Sharon can be heard on the 911 tape warning the operator she was losing consciousness, her throat was closing and she couldn't breathe. She can be heard moaning and gurgling as she felt her situation become more and more desperate. The operator was heard on the 911 tape telling Sharon to 'relax' and 'find a comfortable position' in the six minutes she was on the phone with Villatoro. Eventually, a team of two paramedics was dispatched. The 911 call was disconnected. The two first responders at the scene called for backup; one paramedic was still in training and no indication of the seriousness of Sharon's condition was relayed to paramedics. The back up team arrived eventually, but without their officer, Lt. Bob Combs. Combs decided to stay behind at a soccer game he had snuck away to coach while still on duty. Sharon died at the hospital, the mistakes made by those who promised to serve the citizens of North Port, cost her everything. All that transpired after the 911 call was disconnected is still in question. What is known for sure; mistakes were made that cost the life of the single mother. Combs resigned and the 911 operator was put on paid leave pending the investigation.
Business owner Brian Green called 911 when he first made impact with the light pole. Unable to speak, his call was disconnected. Just minutes later, a group of teens saw him slumped over outside the truck and hurried back to a convenience store to call 911. The young man making the call tried desperately to tell the 911 operator the location of the injured man. The caller was unsure of the exact name of one street, but knew every street that intersected and by-passed the accident site. He was told "they didn't do things that way" when he begged someone to send police and paramedics to the scene. For some reason, one of the street names did not show up in the police database and no one was sent. The next afternoon, a police cruiser spotted the truck and Brian Green. Needless to say, he was dead after spending sixteen hours alone and dying by the side of the road.
The three tragically avoidable deaths in the same small town of North Port, Florida are not just flukes. After hearing of these vital people dying while trying to contact the one place we all believe is our lifeline, I began to look into other States and similar stories. The results were appalling.
Brenda Orr suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. She was a resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Brenda was sleeping when fire erupted in her modest home and she called 911 at once. She was put on hold for seven minutes and then disconnected; she burned to death, unable to escape her home that had become an inferno.
Brittany Zimmerman, 21, called 911 from her campus apartment. She was a college student in Dane County, Wisconsin. The Chief said that there was enough evidence to indicate distress, but Brittany could not speak and the 911 operator chose to hang up on Brittany instead. The operator never tried to call back or send an officer to investigate. Brittany Zimmerman was found dead the next day, murdered brutally, in her apartment from which the call originated.
Michael Cantrell's young son strangled to death in soccer net while the 911 dispatcher refused to tell him how to perform CPR, it is unclear if the operator even knew how CPR is performed.
Sherrill Turner died when her five year old son, Robert, called 911 not once but twice. Following is a transcript of the 911 call from five year old Robert as he tried desperately to help his dying mother.
Robert: My mom has passed out.
Dispatcher: Where's Mr. Turner at?
Robert: Right here.
Dispatcher: Let me speak to him.
Robert: She's not gonna talk.
Dispatcher: Okay, well, I'm going to send the police to your house and find out what's going on with you…
THREE LONG HOURS PASSED AND ROBERT TRIED AGAIN.
Robert: My mom has passed out in her room.
Dispatcher: Where's the grown up at?
Robert: In her room.
Dispatcher: Let me speak to her before I send the police over there.
Robert: She's not gonna talk.
Dispatcher: Okay, well, you know what? Then she's gonna talk to the police because I'm sending them over there.
Dispatcher: I don't care. You shouldn't be playing on the phone. Now, put her on the phone before I send the police out there…and you're going to be in trouble.
Five year old Robert tried valiantly to save his mother's life. She suffered from a severe heart defect. By the time police arrived to 'punish' Robert, his mother was dead.
From my research I learned that every 911 operator involved in these tragic stories were given paid leave for several weeks and returned to continue on as their respective communities' first line of help. Only one operator was fired.
I chose to share just a fraction of cases regarding the deadly errors I found while researching the subject of 911 Emergency Services across the United States. The numbers are staggering. It has been pointed out to me that there is no regulated training for 911 operators in our nation. That brings me to the silver lining in what has become a national epidemic of unnecessary loss of life.
The Denise Amber Lee Foundation, www.deniseamberlee.org , was established by her husband, Nathan Lee after the horrible truth of how badly 911 Emergency Services in Southwest Florida and throughout the entire nation have handled many emergency calls that directly caused the death of countless people in distress and counting on 911 to send life saving aid. Nathan is joined by many family members and friends who have vowed to fight the terribly flawed system that many of us take for granted will be available to help if we or ones we love need emergency care. The cause has become nationally recognized and several members have worked alongside local and national media to get this urgent message out to many Americans who have no idea how our only hope for survival is often that frantic call made to 911, a system that has proven untrustworthy.
This is a cause that affects us all. It is not isolated to one State, or rural areas or poor neighborhoods. No one will be safe until laws are enacted that requires all 911 personnel to be certified in a regulated program that insures these people are properly trained and emotionally able to deal with life and death situations.
Like all not- for-profit organizations, The Denise Amber Lee Foundation relies on private contributions to continue the fight so vital to our safety. Hard economic times often cause those who struggle to cut donations to these types of organizations. This is not the time to ignore a flawed system that can affect our chances of survival. Check out The Foundation's web site (www.deniseamberlee.org) and, please, give. If we all of gave a little, The Foundation will succeed in passing legislation to make the crucial changes needed to fix the broken, but necessary emergency system. The investment of $100, $50, $25, is the cost of just one Christmas or Hanukkah gift. Don't wait until it is you calling 911 in an emergency only to discover you are on your own.
Denise was a hero in life and, now, a hero in death. Her quick thinking and training by her father, Police Sgt. Rick Goff, (a 28 year veteran of the same system that helped kill his daughter) led Denise to plant evidence so there would be no doubt who was responsible for her murder as she made the cell call from King's phone and then planted her own DNA and other evidence on King and in his car, ensuring no other woman could suffer such brutality at this violent criminal's hand. Even in her last moments of life, Denise Lee thought of others. In fact, the Prosecutor in the murder trial of Michael King said the "Denise was the best witness I had against King." King was convicted and sentenced to death and now sits on Florida Death Row awaiting the appeals process.
But Denise and all the others who have put their lives in the hands of our badly flawed 911 system and died due to the calloused handling of their life and death ordeals are a high price to pay to learn a much needed lesson. The system is broken and the only hope for the safety of those in need is the living. This is not a problem any of us can afford ignore.
Help Nathan and the Foundation help you, give what you can to further the cause. Denise will live on in many hearts, yet from the tears that have permanently etched the faces of her husband, children, and all who loved the brave young mother, Denise still cries out for help. Only this time, it is for us, so we never know the crushed hope Denise knew all too well when no one came to save her as the system failed once more. Listen to Denise and Sharon, Brian, Brenda, Brittany, Michael, Sherrill and her son, 5 year old Robert; they all paid the ultimate price relying on a system that has proved to be unreliable.
Sources; www.readersdigest.com , The Englewood Sun Newspaper, www.digg.com , www.deniseamberlee.org www.cbsnew.com, www.channel300.com