July 13, 2016
Virginia Man Dies After 911 Call Mistaken As Butt Dial

A Virginia man, suffering from heart disease, made a 911 call from his iPhone. That call lasted less than 20 seconds before the dispatcher hung up and he died.

When the Virginia dispatcher answered the call with "Fredericksburg 911, where's your emergency?" she was greeted with silence. The dispatcher then said "hello" twice. Hearing nothing in response, the dispatcher assumed it was one of many butt dials or other accidental calls the city gets each day.

However, on reviewing the recording of the 911 call, listed on Fredericksburg.com, there are some barely audible sounds towards the end of that call, as Robert Paulus, 56, tried to speak to the dispatcher, including what sounds like "hello" in a strained voice.

This was no butt dial, but a genuine call for help from a dying man, and the family is criticizing Fredericksburg's protocol when handling 911 calls.

As per the city's emergency dispatch protocol, the dispatcher may end the call if he or she cannot raise the caller. A return call can be made, and if the caller hangs up, police are sent to the location. However, in the case of a call like the one from Paulus, where the dispatcher hears nothing, no callback is required.

According to a report by WJLA, this particular protocol is specific to the Fredericksburg call center, and reportedly the nearby Fairfax County's call center would have been obligated to place that return call.

Reportedly, the call came in on April 23, and Paulus' body was found two days later when his coworkers were worried he hadn't come to work. His family later found the record of the 911 call on his iPhone.

WJLA quotes Paulus' son, Michael Paulus as saying when his father was diagnosed with heart disease, their time ran short, "I was lucky; I got 28 years with him."

Due to Robert's condition, the family knew the time was coming, but it was still such a shock when they found the 911 call on their father's iPhone, and the family reached out to the WJLA's 7 ON YOUR SIDE service for help.

"There was one final cry for help and nobody responded," said Michael.

He continued by saying he might have been able to see his father one last time and say goodbye and that it was tragic Robert died alone, saying, "That's the thing that kills me."

On checking the iPhone, Robert had made the 911 call at 11:46 p.m. on April 23. This was confirmed by AT&T and the next step was to find that call.

The Fredericksburg City Dispatch was contacted, as they were the call center that should have received the call. According to them, there was no record of the call. After expanding the search to other call centers in the area, investigators came up emptyhanded.

Finally, Sarah Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for the Fredericksburg Police Department said they had found the call.

"I think this was an oversight," said Kirkpatrick. "I think the police department is taking it very seriously by opening an internal investigation."

According to Paulus' stepdaughter, the city is now reviewing its protocol and will make the necessary changes to prevent such a situation happening again in the future. However, for her, this doesn't really help. According to Newser, she said, "The hardest part for us is that he was alone. That was the heartbreaking part."

As for Michael, he will never know if a call back could have prolonged his father's life and given him a chance to say goodbye.

"I'm glad I know the truth now. But it makes me very angry that there's nothing in place to help him," he said. "I want things to change. I want policy to change."

[Image by Aleksandra Gigowska/Shutterstock]