Friday, January 30, 2009

Another tragedy in Southwest Florida

Last week at the Merle Norman store I work in, I was waiting on a customer who I've grown to really like. We're only acquaintances but I think we could be friends if we knew each other better. Anyhow, she likes for me to wait on her because she likes trying the newer colors and "playing" with eye shadows etc... For some reason, last Friday (I can't remember exactly what was going on, there's been so much) when she came in wanting to experiment I simply froze! My brain just didn't function. I couldn't wait on her. She was very understanding and decided to come back today. Well, I thought about her throughout the week. I kept thinking of different colors. When I got to work today, I took off my eye make up and started playing before she came in so I'd be ready for her. I was having a fairly good day because I felt as if I was accomplishing something and I was creating.

Sadly, she came in towards the end of the day. I had already started putting the colors away etc... When I saw her she looked "different". She looked sad. I was immediately concerned when she said "last week you were the zombie. Now this week I'm the zombie. I stopped in to tell you that I can't play.... " I was immediately concerned. Then she told me about this. I totally missed it in the papers. I shy away from anything tragic. I can't imagine... I just can't imagine. They are her niece and nephew in-laws (I think that was the relationship) and she talked about Christmas and painting the little girls nails etc..... they were family.

I can only hope I helped this woman in some way. I felt and feel so sad. I just can't imagine...

I am praying for the Herrera family and their extended family. I deleted a post I had written the other day. I was speculating. And I remember when we lost Denise how others speculated and how much it hurt. I think it's best to leave speculation to the Collier County Sheriff's Office.

God bless those little angels. Mark said when Denise died to Nate "If God needed an angel, he picked the perfect person." Well if God needed two more angels, He found them in these two little innocent children.

Today's Herald Tribune "Bill Aims To Raise the Bar for 911"

A couple of comments about this article. I wish they would have mentioned the foundation's work this past year. There is no mention of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation. This is what we've been lobbying for and we've been lobbying over a year. This is what the fundraisers are about. The golf tournament, the Family Fun Day, the Poinsettia Parade etc...... I really believe that all should've been mentioned. But........

The Herald Tribune has somehow taken total credit and failed to recognize all the many people who have helped us and have been working on this. That's bothersome. But, still, I shouldn't complain. At least, they are working on getting the story out there. I have to commend them for that.

Today's Herald Tribune Article

Bill aims to raise bar for 911

After Herald-Tribune series, a push for uniform, mandatory training

By Zac Anderson

Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 11:27 p.m.

For the first time, Florida's 911 operators would receive uniform, mandatory training and would have to be state certified before taking emergency calls if legislation being drafted by several Florida lawmakers is introduced and approved this year.

The lawmakers announced their plans days after the Herald-Tribune published the results of a six-month investigation into failures of the 911 system statewide.

The newspaper found that hundreds of 911 errors threaten lives every year. In some cases, call takers send help to the wrong address, fall asleep on the job or simply forget to send help at all.
Despite repeated errors, Florida lags far behind most other states in training and oversight because state officials have taken on virtually no regulation of the state's more than 250 call centers.

Each 911 center sets its own training standards, a practice that means some call takers train for months while others are directing emergency response just days after being hired.
The bill being written by state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, would change that, making a voluntary 911 training program mandatory and requiring state certification for all 911 employees.

"We need mandatory rules," Roberson said. "Everybody should have the same standard."
Roberson has won support from several key legislators, including Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who agreed last week to file a companion bill in the Senate.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, one of the three most powerful House members and a must-have vote for any legislation, said Wednesday he supports the bill because citizens need confidence in the 911 system.

"In general I'm not a big proponent of mandates. But this is one, in my opinion, that will ultimately save lives," Galvano said.

Galvano said he was prepared to take on the Florida Police Chief's Association and the Florida Sheriff's Association, which have lobbied against mandatory 911 training standards because of concerns about the cost. It is unclear how much the new requirements would cost.

"I will say to them that we have an obligation to do everything we can to make sure this isn't an unfunded mandate, Galvano said. "But they have to realize what a high priority this is."
Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chief's Association, declined to comment on the 911 bill until it is filed.

Roberson's bill would not address all of the challenges facing Florida's 911 centers.
The Herald-Tribune investigation found that beyond lax training requirements, most 911 centers do a poor job of tracking and investigating errors. In addition, error-prone 911 employees can rack up mistake after mistake and keep their jobs. Some 911 operators were allowed to botch a dozen or more calls before being fired.

Pay remains low, and stress and absenteeism high. As a result, many 911 centers are plagued by high turnover. Some lose 75 percent of new hires with a year, ensuring a steady stream of inexperienced call takers to direct the state's emergency responders.

But if the bill becomes law, Florida's training standards would go from among the weakest in the nation to among the strongest. All 911 employees would be required to complete a 208-hour basic training course before receiving a state certification to work as a 911 call taker. Agencies that already offer such training could apply to have their program certified as state-approved. Dispatchers with at least five years of experience would automatically qualify for certification.

Certification would mean that every 911 worker has a basic level of training. In addition, the state could revoke a 911 worker's certification, although currently it is not clear whether that would end a dispatcher's career or what criteria would be used to revoke certifications.

The state's 911 centers would likely have a few years to get everyone certified, Roberson said. He said he will also look for money to help local governments pay for the additional training.
Southwest Florida lawmakers began contemplating more state oversight of 911 centers a year ago, after confusion and errors made at the Charlotte County 911 center cost law enforcement a crucial opportunity to save the life of a 21-year-old North Port woman.

That woman, Denise Amber Lee, was kidnapped from her home, raped and buried in a shallow grave. When a woman saw Lee struggling with her kidnapper, she called 911, but no police officers were sent to check on the report and Lee was killed a short time later.

When the 911 mistakes were revealed, lawmakers pushed through a bill calling for voluntary training for 911 employees. But with no funding and no requirements, experts say, the bill did not lead to improved standards.

Denise Lee's widow, Nate Lee, said this week that making training standards mandatory is a first step.

"I'm excited about this training, I'll be up in Tallahassee lobbying for it," Nate Lee said. But "the whole 911 system needs another look. The state of Florida deserves better."

Roberson said he has been contemplating mandatory requirements for some time and the Herald-Tribune investigation cemented his decision.

"Public safety has to be a priority," Roberson said. "If firefighters need state training, and police officers, so should 911 operators."

Thursday, January 29, 2009


yes. that's it.


what's the word? dichotomy?

two extreme opposites?

We've seen true goodness these past few days. And we've seen true arrogance, callousness and greed.

I can't believe I'm 51 years old and am just now experiencing this.

I was offered a promotion today at the bookstore. They want me to become a manager again. That would mean some very much needed money. Sadly, I can't take it! I can't even work the friggin' cash register. Me! Who has been in the retail industry since she was 15 years old. I've been running cash registers for most of my life! I'm serious, now I have some sort of phobia working a cash register. I can't figure it out. I get all confused and downright frazzled. If I can't work a cash register, how am I going to manage a store? That and we have the trial coming up!!!! I imagine I'll be even worse then! So, my boss, who totally understands backed off. He knows that I would be perfect for the job IF all this other stuff wasn't going on. I mean, I'm PERFECT for the job. (Not trying to be arrogant, just stating truth.) Also, he knows how much the money would mean to us. He, my boss, has been so super wonderful to me this past year and just wants to help. I think he must have experienced something fairly traumatic in his past to be so wonderfully understanding. Or maybe he's just genuinely a good man. He was thinking maybe by taking the manager's job it would help me emotionally. You know, make me snap out of whatever is going on. But, no. I'm not ready. I couldn't handle the additional stress. It stresses me out just thinking about running a friggin' cash register. So, maybe next year when the trial is over. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Others stepped up today in other ways. So many people want to help us. And I'm not talking about Nathan because of Denise. But, me and Mark because who we are.

I'm telling you, it's important to be "genuinely" good and generous because people remember and people step up. I won't go into it all in detail because I don't want to embarrass anyone. But, I'll say it again. We've seen goodness this week and we've seen the reverse.

When the dust settles I'll explain it in more detail. It's complicated and things aren't final as far as how it's all going to play out.

I don't know. Maybe I've lived wearing rose colored glasses the past 50 years. Or maybe I've been blessed these last 50 years. Yes, I choose to think of it that way. I believe (I'll try to talk myself into this) that for the past 50 years I've been blessed. To think! It wasn't until I was 50 that I realized, first hand, that evil is a reality. It's a tragic reality that I'd hate to see visited on anyone.

Sorry. Just thinking out loud. Thanks for listening. Much love and peace.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The new and improved Denise Amber Lee Foundation website

Gosh, Sean, it looks great! Many many thanks. I can't imagine doing all you've done with the new baby and Aidan. Please thank Mindi for us. And may God bless you and yours.

Again, it's awesome! Much much better.

911: Setting the standard in Lee County and beyond! Beginning the trend of 9-1-1 standards.

OMgosh! I'm so excited!!!!

Things are starting to happen!

I'm so overwhelmed with tears right now. Gosh, I just want to hug Lee County officials and all the other 9-1-1 training centers who attended!!!!! Oh, God bless you for stepping up!

I don't know how to embed the video but here's a link from WinkNews!! But reading the article is much better. There's more to the article than to the video, IMO.


911: Setting the standard in Lee County and beyond
By WINK News
Story Created: Jan 27, 2009 at 6:50 PM EST
Story Updated: Jan 27, 2009 at 7:16 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A group of 911 trainers from counties across Florida met for the first time in Lee County Tuesday to work toward mandatory training and certification for dispatchers statewide. They're starting with their own agencies.

Police officers and fire fighters are certified, so they ask...why not them?"

We're the ones that are taking the calls from the hostage takers, from the suicidal individuals, we're taking calls from shooting victims...whatever tragedy is going on that time, that is the life of a 911 operator," said Chris Hodges, 911 Training Coordinator for the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

The Denise Amber Lee Act, which passed last year, set the standard for state-wide certification. Right now though, the standard is only voluntary. The Act is named for a murdered North Port mother.

An investigation revealed information that could have possibly lead deputies to Lee, was never passed on by dispatchers in Charlotte County.

A stronger version of the Denise Amber Lee Act would make the certification standards mandatory. It's expected to be considered by Florida lawmakers during the upcoming Legislative Session.

But, Hodges says Lee County is already one step ahead.

"We're looking at it as mandatory. Everybody in our communications center will be state certified, voluntary or not. Everybody will go through certification," she explained. She says the goal is to have all dispatchers who qualify to be certified by the end of the year."

Everybody needs to go back to their training programs, look at their standards, make sure we're up to standard and also open the channel of communication and resource sharing between the agencies," Hodges went on to say.

The trainers represented agencies from as far north as Ocala down to the Keys.

Natalie Duran, with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department says she looks forward to the day when someone can call 911 from any county in Florida and expect the person on the other line to have the same level of standardized training."

It's wonderful to think every time I cross over from one county to the other, the dispatcher that picks up the phone that everyone of them understands the information I need, they will ask me the same type of questions and they will provide me with the same type of service," said Duran.

Denise Amber Lee / Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Timeline for January 17, 2008

Hopefully today will be the last time I ever have to look at this timeline. Because I'm the one who read the I/A report, I'm the one who has to present it anew to any persons who are getting involved in the case whether they be reporters, investigators.... whatever.

I honestly don't want Mark or Nate to ever have to read the I/A report if they don't have to but! if I keep having to go over it, I'm afraid one of them will have to take over. And, it's just painful.

I just want to hand it to somebody and say "go at it" but they need to have the passion for 9-1-1 reform that we have.

Every time I present it to new persons I go over it to make sure it's all there and I have my facts straight.

I went over it again today. Sigh! Hence this post.

The other day I talked about feeling ill whenever I see a CCSO car. I assume it's because I associate them with this crap.

I don't feel sick when I see NPPD cars! I get a good feeling when I see them. I want to wave and yell thank you to them!

In any case, I won't post the timeline here. This timeline I'm talking about is much more detailed and more explicit than the timeline I posted a couple of weeks ago. I really don't want anyone else to ever have to read it unless it's going to help Nathan's case and it's going to help fix the problems.

I would like Governor Crist to read it sometime. So........ if anyone out there has any connections and can guarantee that he'll see it and that it'll get past his Lt Gov Kottcamp (apparently a childhood buddy of Bill Cameron's), I'd appreciate the help.

He should know what's going on down here.

here's the full time line I posted before:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We're going to be moving!

Yes, we're getting ready to move. We'll probably still be in this house another month. That's a good thing. It'll give us time to pack. Anyhow, I hate moving. I have pretty much loved every house we've lived in. But the first two were the most special.

This was our first house just inside the Baltimore City line. I loved this house even though it was a duplex. We had tons of privacy. We had two fireplaces. It was huge! It doesn't look it but it was. Both boys, Nathan and Brian, were born while we lived in this house. So, we had many good memories. We loved fixing it up. I remember my father in law, who was a realtor at the time, cringing when we wanted to paint the trim a dark blue! I was pregnant and so Mark acquiesced to my wishes. We think the dark trim turned out pretty good! Nathan will kill me for posting the next two photos but they give a little bit of an idea of how the trim looked. We also completely remodeled the tiny kitchen. When we first moved in the kitchen only had a few cabinets on one wall. I completely re-designed the kitchen so as to have cabinets on both sides. We hand tiled the counters. It was beautiful. I've looked for pics but can't find any. We also renovated the basement and we were able to rent it out to supplement the mortgage. It, too, had a full working fireplace and Mark built a kitchen down there too. Gosh, I loved that house. I hated to move.

Because our first house was in the city, we were concerned about schooling for the boys. If schooling hadn't been such a concern, I'm not sure we would've ever moved from that first house. I loved that house. We had great neighbors. Across the street was a national cemetery full of war veterans (one happened to be my cousin who died fighting in WWII). So, it was pretty quiet. We loved walking in that cemetery.

Anyhow, below was our next house. Because I don't know how to use computers as well as I should, sadly, the "after" picture is posted before the "before" picture. We moved out to the country not too far south of Gettysburg. We were still in Maryland though. Oh, goodness. If this house could talk it would speak of all kinds of joy and truly happy memories. The boys started to grow in this house. They started school. They started to make friends. I can't tell you how depressed I was when we had to move from this house. We had so many parties here. A few of the most memorable ones were my sister's wedding reception, a welcome home party for my brother-in-law from Desert Storm, Christmas Tree cutting parties, Christmas cookie exchanges, 4th of July's, oh...... we had enough space we could have horseshoes, wiffle ball and croquet all going on at the same time. I included a couple of pictures of Brian. The balloon picture was taken one Sunday morning when Mark looked out our kitchen window and spotted it landing in the corn field behind us. Now, that is something to wake up to! How cool is that? Mark built the swing set that was 3 tiers. At the time I thought it a tad dangerous.

Another very special thing about this house was it was historic. Because the walls were stone our window sills were 2 feet deep. In the basement the sills were triangular and the windows were slits. The historical society said they were built that way so as to put a musket through and still be able to shoot out at all angles. It was pretty darn cool.

Anyhow, my point being that as much as I hate leaving this house (the one here in Florida) I realize life will go on. The grandbabies will grow just as Nathan and Brian did. It's not where you live, it's where you love that counts.

I do so hate moving but as far as leaving this house. I can't wait. As one door closes another will open and Denise would so much want us to be happy. I think this house obviously has bad Karma if there is such a thing. So good riddance and on to happier days.

added edit: No! We're not moving far. We'll still be around. I couldn't think of leaving the kids unless of course we have to.

Nathan on Clout 941 with Ron Filipkowski

He does so well! I'm so proud of him.

I knew Rick had been told the day of the viewing but I didn't realize Rick found out about the mishandled call while shopping for a suit at the mall. He was probably shopping for a suit for Denise's funeral! That's just awful.

I can't find words to express the disgust I feel for the CCSO higher ups (John Davenport and Bill Cameron!)

Denise Amber Lee/Top Ten Reasons I believe there was a cover up

I've said them before and I'll keep saying them. Why? Because I hope someone will take an interest and expose the problems in the CCSO. Sorry for the clutter but sometimes we have to do what we have to do. Those of you who have been following this story understand the repetition. I apologize to others but I feel compelled to get the truth out.

Top ten reasons there was a cover-up:

1 They didn't notify the North Port Police Department immediately after they mishandled Ms Kowalski's phone call. Why not? Even though, they KNEW she was the last person to see Denise alive and would've been the prosecution's best witness. They insinuate they didn't know the call referred to Denise, but according to the I/A report, they knew that night. They never followed up with Jane Kowalski on her phone call. Why not? She is heard clearly requesting them to follow up with her on her concerns when you listen to the call.

2 They only reprimand the dispatchers. IMO the dispatchers are scapegoats. Yes, they screwed up royally but the call taker, Millie Stepp, screwed up more. So, did the supervisor Laurie Piatt who testified she "didn't know what was going on" because she "was too busy patching radios." Also, their Teletype machine wasn't monitored and they could lose it, if it's found they did not use it appropriately.

3 They had Capt Donna Roguska lead the Internal Affairs investigation. She was Director of Communications that night and in charge. Capt Roguska had just been promoted to Internal Affairs but was filling in for Sherman Robinson who was on vacation and supervised the 9-1-1 center that night. What does that smack of?

4 They didn't interview Bill Cameron who was the Chief of Communications. He was the top TOP dog that night calling all the shots. Why wasn't he interviewed? Is it because it was an election year and he was running for sheriff?

5 They refused to answer any questions after the Internal Affairs Investigation Report came out. Why not? The I/A report only raises more questions and answered very few.

6 Their treatment of Ms Kowalski in blaming her for giving them "erroneous" information about the color of the car and the age of the victim. That's truly appalling. Here a citizen does the right thing, but because it was going to expose major mistakes in the 9-1-1 center they chose to not even call her back. And they blame her!

7 They laid blame on Nextel being the problem and went to great lengths to explain how they were going to go about discontinuing the use of Nextel when the only person who had a Nextel phone in the 9-1-1 center that night was Laurie Piatt, the supervisor patching radios. At least according to those who were interviewed. Who knows what Roguska and Cameron were using? They conveniently weren't interviewed.

8 The list of questions that went unasked in the investigation. For example "who was the 'he' in authority that Millie Stepp was asking direction from while on the phone with Ms Kowalski?" and "who was hollering at Millie when she was on the phone with Ms Kowalski?" These were clearly people in authority. Those people were never interviewed and it was never asked who they are. Also "why didn't Millie (the call taker) confirm with the dispatchers that they received her information and that it was sent out?" And "why weren't the 3 BOLOs sent across on the Teletype from North Port responded to?" And "why were the CCSO deputies in the field not looking for a green Camaro until after 6:45PM when the CCSO first received information over the Teletype about a green Camaro as early as 4:59PM?" And "during the shift change what information did the on duty supervisor give to the on-coming supervisor?" And "why wasn't the on coming squad of call takers and dispatchers made aware of the green Camaro and the 3 BOLOs?" The pass on log which they all initialed when they came in at 6:45PM doesn't mention anything about the green Camaro or the white pudgy guy. Why not? "Why were the CCSO deputies in the field so frustrated about not having any leads when there were clearly leads coming over the Teletype?" How could the supervisor, Laurie Piatt get away with a response of "I didn't know what was going on, I was patching radios, I mean, I knew Millie had a call but I really didn't know anything about it". She was the supervisor for goodness sakes. Where's the follow up of "why not? And why didn't you make it your business to find out why one of your call takers was standing up screaming across the room and find out why people were hollering at her?" I could go on but I'll stop for a while. Most likely I'll blog about it in a few days. If I do I'll warn you ahead of time that it's a rant on cover-up.

9 They won't open themselves up to an external investigation which you'd think they would. I mean, if there are no issues as they say and their dispatchers are excellent, you'd think an external investigation would exonerate them. They continue to hide behind Nathan's lawsuit when no lawsuit has been filed!

10 Biggest reason! the North Port Police Department had to "request" information on Ms Kowalski's call on Saturday, the same day we found Denise's body, when most 9-1-1 centers would've contacted them the night of the call (Thursday). The CCSO clearly knew according to their own I/A report the call referred to Denise as early as Thursday evening. Why? Why did the NPPD have to "request" information? Ms Kowalski was the last person to see Denise alive. She was a critical witness and we would NEVER have known about her or her call if she hadn't persistantly called the NPPD. The CCSO's treatment of her is an indictment itself.

I'd add 11 but it is all only hearsay and I have no proof. But it seems there's been other cover-ups involving the same cast of characters. You'd hope Denise's case was isolated but it's not.

Jane was an eyewitness to Denise's kidnapping. She called 9-1-1 and reached the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office 9-1-1 center. She kept them on the line 9 minutes. Denise's kidnapping took place in Sarasota County and Sarasota County with the North Port Police Department had jurisdiction over the case. They all neighbor each other. Jane called 9-1-1 and reached the CCSO. She thought she was talking to the North Port 9-1-1 center. There's no way to tell who you are reaching when calling the 9-1-1 center because they answer the call "9-1-1, where is your emergency?" Anyhow, Jane wasn't aware of what she was witnessing and only realized it the next morning when she watched the news and saw Denise's story. She then immediately called the NPPD and told them she was the eyewitness they talked to the night before and she wanted to help. THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO SHE WAS. Was that their fault (the NPPD's)? NO! The CCSO (namely Bill Cameron, now Sheriff, then Communications Chief) NEVER TOLD THE NORTH PORT DETECTIVES HANDLING DENISE'S CASE ABOUT THE CALL. WE WERE STILL LOOKING FOR HER!!!!!! Why? Because the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office grossly mishandled not only the call and didn't dispatch a car but neglected their Teletype and ignored crucial BOLO's (Be On the Look Outs) containing information on the suspect and his car. They certainly and for sure didn't want anyone to know.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rhymes and Reasons

I was going through closets today and found an old John Denver songbook from the seventies. I decided to sit down at the piano and play the book through. I came across this and was glad that I did.

So you speak to me of sadness
And the coming of the winter
Fear that is within you now
It seems to never end

And the dreams that have escaped you
And the hope that youve forgotten
You tell me that you need me now
You want to be my friend

And you wonder where were going
Wheres the rhyme and wheres the reason
And its you cannot accept
It is here we must begin
To seek the wisdom of the children
And the graceful way of flowers in the wind

For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Could clear a cloudy day

Like the music of the mountains
And the colours of the rainbow
Theyre a promise of the future
And a blessing for today

Though the cities start to crumble
And the towers fall around us
The sun is slowly fading
And its colder than the sea

It is written from the desert
To the mountains they shall lead us
By the hand and by the heart
They will comfort you and me
In their innocence and trusting
They will teach us to be free

For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Could clear a cloudy day

And the song that I am singing
Is a prayer to non believers
Come and stand beside us
We can find a better way

Words and music by john denver

Last night's post

On reading it this morning, it appears that I was and still am feeling sorry for myself and my family. Last night wasn't an easy one for me. I thought about deleting the post as it's so depressing but I've now thought otherwise. Part of the purpose of this blog is to help other homicide survivors and if the post in any way echoes any of their feelings, then I choose to leave it as it stands so that they do not feel alone. It does NOT bring comfort knowing others suffer and share the same pain but it may bring comfort to others knowing they are NOT going crazy. That it's the situation that is crazy and not us.

FWIW, I'm not much better this morning. Actually I feel worse. I feel hungover even though I didn't have any alcohol last night. I think I had too much sleep. My eyes are all puffy this morning and my head is cloudy. I had nightmares again but they weren't violent. They were confusing.

The anger has dissipated some. And that is always a good thing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Life just isn't the same (not a fun read) homicide grief

Life just isn't the same and I wonder sometimes if it ever will be. It's been a strange week since the tribute last weekend. I don't know whether to share the good news or the bad news first. Maybe I shouldn't share any of it. But it's back to the cave for me, I think.

I honestly don't think life will ever be the same. It's seems to me as if when the killer killed Denise, he also killed my family. At least, he killed it the way it was. I don't believe we'll ever be able to go back. Mark's different. I'm different. Nathan's definitely different. My relationship with my family (up north) is different. My friends have changed. I have new friends but feel as if I've lost my old friends.

We saw some family we hadn't seen since before Denise died this past weekend who were in visiting. I had a terrible time. It wasn't their fault. They were their same old, loving, laughing selves. Two people who I've always enjoyed being around. And they were able to laugh and joke. Mom (my mother-in-law) thoroughly enjoyed them. It was good to hear her laugh and let go. It was good to see her enjoy herself. Even Mark was joking around and laughing. But, I just felt sick. They kept asking questions. You see they weren't here when it all went down and all they've seen is the PrimeTime, 20/20 and Dr Phil stuff. So, they don't quite get the whole thing. In any case they were full of questions and we answered them honestly and truthfully. Some of the truths are very unpleasant. And, of course, we had to go through the whole story and share our feelings. It's hard to explain, but this is something we very MUCH want to do because we want our families to understand. But then I love them so much and I can see the pain it causes them when they see or hear the ugliness. I'm not sure if any of this is making any sense to anyone out there who hasn't been through what we've been through. I probably sound like a loony but I'm not. Mark says it because our naivete has died. That others still have a certain naivete that we'll never get back. In any case, we want to share with them what's going on, especially if they ask, but then we don't because it means reliving it, and it means causing them pain. And isn't there just enough pain already?

How can I describe what we're experiencing, Mark and I, after losing Denise in such a tragic, horrific way. And I say "experiencing" because it's an on going thing. And it started the moment she was torn away from the babies and we received those first terrifying phonecalls telling us she was missing. Just missing. It's been constant and it hasn't stopped. Every day we live the pain anew. I am no longer myself. Mark is no longer himself. And Nathan is no longer himself. Are we better people for it? No, I don't think so. The babies, Noah and Adam, deserve spontaneous joy in their lives. They deserve happiness and fun. We do our bests to bring that to them. We celebrated Brian's birthday last night. We met his new friend, Pablo. What a nice young man. We had birthday cake and I was able to laugh with Brian. Brian has changed to. But not as much. I assume (and don't know) that's because he's in Tampa and a little farther removed from the situation. He doesn't see the daily reminders we see everyday. There are so many things that remind of us Denise. Today when we went to church and then lunch afterward. Just her absence is a reminder. I don't know how to explain it.

But looking back at seeing our old family who is visiting, and celebrating Brian's birthday, I feel as if we're just shells of our former selves.

We're shells.

I miss Denise all the time. I miss Nathan. I miss the Nathan that I used to know. I feel as if I don't even know the new Nathan. It's rare we have a conversation. Heck. I don't think we've had one since Denise died. And, I miss Mark. I imagine they miss me. Because I know I'm not the person I was.

We're all still loving. Or at least we try to be. There's a sort of sharpness now, though. We say things we never would've said before while angry. We don't have as much emotionally to give, I don't think. We want to. But we just can't.

I don't think I'll ever be able to find forgiveness for the man who did this to us. First, the way he made Denise suffer. Her ordeal lasted hours. HOURS! And then to just kill her as if she were disposable. No thought to her, her kids, her husband and her family. Just of himself. What a creep.

And, now, what he's done to my family. He's shattered and devastated and even now a year later, we're all emotionally crippled and will most likely be crippled for a long time.

People say don't be mad at God, be mad at Satan. And, a person who could do something like this would have to be some sort of Satan.

Last I heard he was on suicide watch. Hah! Why should he be on suicide watch? Why should he want to commit suicide? He doesn't have to work another day of his life! He doesn't have to worry about bills anymore! He doesn't have to worry about losing his home! He doesn't have to raise two young children on his own! What does he have to worry about? He'll probably live years longer than we will.

Maybe it's time to talk to the good doctor about anti-depressants. But I don't think so. Anti-depressants are not going to bring Denise back. They are not going to miraculously bring back our naivete. They'll just cloud the issues and these issues don't need clouding. They need clarity.

If you read this, Nathan, I miss you. I know you don't read it. But if you ever do, I miss you.

I honestly do want that bastard who did this to suffer. Sadly, I doubt if he is. He probably is on meds. The only way he's suffering is being alone. Poor poor him. He doesn't know what suffering is.

And, please, don't worry about me. These thoughts are nothing new. I think these thoughts on a daily basis. I just don't always get them out. It's been a strange week.

Much love and peace to all, except a select few.

Friday, January 23, 2009

In the Herald Tribune

Yesterday the Sun-Herald had a piece in the editorial section. I posted it yesterday.

Today this was in the Herald Tribune editorial page. I imagine (and can only guess it's in response to the response they received for Zac Anderson's articles last weekend.

I'm in a rather funky mood and I may blog more tonight but it's been a rather dramatic week and I'm struggling with my thoughts. Anyhow, here's a copy of what was in the Herald Tribune this morning. I'll blog more tonight about my thoughts. And believe me, I have a lot of them.

Warning on 911

Series shows a need for improvements in training, pay and accountability

Published: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

Considering the nature of the work - fielding callers who range from babbling toddlers to dying crime victims -- 911 emergency operators will make mistakes. Miscommunication will happen.

But if perfection is out of reach, reliability and accuracy are not. The public should expect these of its 911 systems.

Some systems fall short, as a recent Herald-Tribune investigative series detailed.

Among the millions of 911 calls received in Florida over the past five years, hundreds (at the least) were seriously mishandled, reporters found.

Florida and some other states have no statewide requirements for "training, staffing or quality control" at 911 centers, the series pointed out. Standards and success rates vary by jurisdiction. In some counties, such as Broward and Sarasota, 911 operators get classroom training. In others, such as Manatee, they don't.

Some agencies don't formally track complaints, reporters noted, and many 911 centers "tolerate repeated mistakes" -- a disturbing trend caused, in part, by the difficulty of retaining workers in this stressful field. It seems that experience matters, but is not highly compensated: The median annual salary is under $32,000, data indicate.

To make the best of a difficult job, these workers need thorough training, good technological tools that they know how to use, fair compensation and accountability.

None of that comes cheap, but Florida and the nation should find a way to pay for these improvements.

Case for reform

A year ago, mistakes by the Charlotte County 911 center revealed the aching distance between perfection and failure. Operators there received a call that could have helped catch a kidnapper, but the process fell apart, operators did not follow through and law enforcement was not notified. Ultimately the abduction victim, a young North Port mom, died.

The blame for that loss lies squarely on the killer. But the case shows how important a well-run 911 system is to the cause of public safety.

An internal investigation into the handling of the 911 calls faulted two staff members, and details portrayed an office caught flat-footed and unprepared. The two workers were suspended and retrained, but the victim's family wants systemic reforms.

As the newspaper series noted, some counties, such as Alachua and Sarasota, have made strong strides in 911 quality control. But problems -- though proportionally rare -- can happen anywhere, including:

Sarasota County in 2004. According to a report in the Herald-Tribune, a misunderstanding occurred on two 911 calls concerning the crash of a small plane in Venice. Authorities did not get to the scene until 19 hours later. One 911 operator was reassigned at her request, and more training procedures were implemented.

Lapeer County, Mich. Officials there blamed "outmoded equipment for system failures to the (911) lifesaving system," according to an article in the County Press. "To keep up with technological advances, cash strapped 911 must find $15.2 million to replace it."

Nashville, Tenn. A policy requiring 911 operators to ask callers a lengthy "checklist" of questions delayed medical help. After complaints and an investigation, the policy was changed.

Detroit. Last year a woman there became the first 911 operator in the country to be convicted for mishandling a case. Reportedly, she mistook for a prank a 5-year-old boy's call about his mother, who had collapsed and later died. The operator, convicted of misdemeanor neglect and fired, was sentenced to probation and community service.

Madison, Wis. In December a 911 operator -- trying to answer another call -- reportedly mishandled a call from a college student who was under attack. The girl was later found slain.

Recognize reality

Any discussion of 911 problems must recognize the extraordinary conditions that operators and dispatchers often face on the job.

These workers are multi-taskers, asked to quickly make detailed, knowledgeable decisions -- even if the person on the other end of the phone is incoherent or panicked. They must be able to use technology, classify calls, select proper codes, find the nearest available police cars, and sometimes talk a caller through lifesaving measures.

These are valuable skills that should be developed through training and office accreditation, and be fairly compensated. Paying for them is a challenge, however, as are efforts to develop user-friendly equipment that keeps up with telecom advances and gets operators the information they need.

To help fund 911 improvements, Florida could increase the 50-cent monthly fee that phone users pay toward this purpose.

A fee hike may prove necessary, but caution is warranted: Both land-line and cell-phone users pay a variety of other taxes, on top of the 911 fee, that add substantially to government coffers. The combined communications tax rates are among the highest in the nation, according to nonprofit Florida Tax Watch.

Much of the revenue produced by the general communications taxes are used for schools, infrastructure and other long-term needs that are important but have nothing to do with phone service. In the future, shifting some of that all-purpose money toward 911 -- which, in Sarasota County, also receives some funding from sales taxes as well as county fire and ambulance fees -- should be considered.

More federal grant money for 911 technology upgrades, training and nationally recognized accreditation would help as well. If such funding is not already under consideration as part of President Obama's economic recovery plan, it should be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank you, Sun-Herald, for your support of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation


Family, friends turn tragedy into service

OUR POSITION: The Denise Amber Lee Foundation is working to fix the 911 emergency call system and prevent another tragedy. They deserve our support.

There are events in any community that resonate with a special power, that seem to touch what can only be described as the heart and soul of the community. There are events that leave emotional marks, events that change the way people view the world around them.

Hundreds gathered last weekend to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of Denise Amber Lee in North Port. Most affected by the tragedy are those who were closest to Denise, her husband and two young children, her parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, former classmates, co-workers and friends. For them, the wounds are deepest.

But Denise was a local girl, born and raised. Her family's roots extend back decades. They are strongly involved locally, so it was only natural that the tragedy of her passing extended to a wider community throughout Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

Beyond that, though, were the circumstances surrounding the 21-year-old woman's kidnapping and murder, now well known. The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office botched a 911 emergency call that could have helped police save Denise's life, and that fact has received national publicity, as it should. It's a tragedy that might have been prevented if better emergency procedures had been in place. Only if.

It was particularly astounding that critical information from a passing motorist, Jane Kowalski of Tampa, was not relayed through the emergency system. Kowalski did everything possible to alert dispatchers during a 911 call, but her information fell into a crack.

Kowalski was honored for her efforts last weekend by the city of North Port and the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, which cited her "selfless act and extraordinary spirit." While declining to classify her actions as heroic -- "All I did was call 911," she told the Sun -- she added, "I can't believe that, with all I saw and heard, no one else did. I know others saw."

Kowalski does deserve the recognition she received for her actions. Despite what she said, she did go beyond the norm.

Denise's family and friends also deserve to see their crusade for changes in 911 emergency systems bear fruit.

The foundation has made 911 reform its mission. It is working to establish a clear set of procedures for emergency workers handling calls. It is working to see that dispatcher training and certification is mandatory; they are on the front line, after all, critical to the process.

Denise's family and the foundation are trying to make sure that similar tragedies don't happen again.

"I want to do what I can to change the 911 system," Denise's husband, Nathan Lee, said. "Mistakes do happen, but they can be prevented as well."

The foundation (Web site: has raised $30,000 so far to press the cause nationally, to start a training center and to help the families of murder victims.

Family and friends are taking their personal tragedy and creating something that might spare others such grief in the future. They deserve our full support and blessings.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office and me

I hate to blog about this but I'm hoping it will help me with something that's going on with me personally. I'm having issues.

Every time I see a Charlotte County Sheriff's Department car, I get very odd, bad feelings.

Now. I don't have problems with the men and women who work for the CCSO. I admire them. I commend them and I thank them for all they do and all they've done. These men and women searched a long side Nathan for Denise. They've been nothing but kind. Yes, I do have issues with the new sheriff, Bill Cameron. I doubt I'll ever trust him. And, yes, I have issues with the old sheriff, John Davenport. I admit it. I want to barf when I hear their names. This may be very unreasonable. I don't know. I doubt it. I think anyone who was treated the way we've been treated and lied to would feel this way especially when it concerns the loss of a loved one. I have great issues with the squad on duty in the 9-1-1 center that night. They know they made grave mistakes. One woman in particular... Well, I'm too much of a lady (or at least I try to be) to go there. I think that woman should be arrested. Maybe when she goes before God with it, she'll start feeling some remorse instead of chuckling about her training. If she were to read this, I doubt she'd recognize herself.

In any case. These are my problems. I'm dealing with them the best way I know how.

I'll be driving along, minding my own business, thinking about what I need at the store or whatever and then I'll spot a CCSO car. I just get panicky. I just turn to jelly. It all floods back. Denise, what she suffered, Michael King, the 9-1-1 failures, the actions of the new sheriff during the election, John Davenport and his arrogance, Denise again and how she suffered, the shot in the head, how it could've been prevented. The thoughts just come flooding and racing in! I can't stop them. Sometimes, I've had to literally pull over and get myself under control. I've gotten better now. I can continue driving and I battle all those thoughts and fight them. I literally have to fight them and continue on. But I no longer have to pull over.

Now, I have nothing against these guys in the field! I think they're wonderful. They've treated me wonderfully.

It's that ill feeling I want to get rid of when I see a CCSO car, or when I'm at a 4 way stop and a CCSO car pulls up.

Why am I writing this here? Well.... for a couple of reasons.

1.) Maybe other people who are experiencing homicide grief experience similar stuff and this will help them in know they are not alone.

2.) It's cathartic. I'm hoping by getting it all out, the next time I see a CCSO car I won't be sickened. I think it's wrong to be sickened by CCSO cars. They were out there doing their best searching that night. It wasn't their fault they weren't getting the BOLOs from dispatch.

God bless the CCSO and the men and women who put their lives on the line. This blog wasn't about you so much as it was about some of the things I experience. I share it for others.

added edit: I honestly believe, that if John Davenport and Bill Cameron had treated us differently in the beginning of this tragedy and if they had come clean with the mistakes and made an effort to help our family "move on", and if they hadn't manipulated the facts I wouldn't have these issues. Instead of feeling sickened when seeing a CCSO car, I'd feel comforted and safe.

Again, God bless those people who put their lives on the line for us each and everyday. I just wish when I saw them my mind wouldn't be flooded with ugly memories.

My younger brother Danny. I'm so proud.

My younger brother, Dan, has been Iraq and will be coming home soon. I won't go into all the details because I don't want to embarrass him. I'm just so happy he's coming home. My dad called today to tell me that he'll be home on Monday!

Dan, if you're reading this, I love you very much. I first realized what a wonderful person you are when you won Father LaPorta's pastor award! I thought then, what thirty years ago? And I believe now, that you are the best.

I'm so grateful that you are coming home to Jen, and the kids. I hope maybe someday you can visit us in Florida. I miss you, dearly.



Staff Sergeant Thomas D. Puente, United States Army, distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous conduct in the face of the enemy of the United States as a Tank Commander for Second Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, FOB Callahan, Iraq on 07 December 2008 during Operation Iraqi Freedom 07-09.
On the afternoon of 07 December 2008 at approximately 1700, SSG Puente commanded the lead M1A2 SEP of a routine two tank patrol to relieve elements conducting mounted counter IRAM observation posts in Muhallah 315 when his tank was struck by an explosively formed projectile. SSG Puente sustained significant wounds to his upper body and face as a result of shrapnel and debris. Despite his injuries, SSG Puente maintained his composure and continued to fight. Without regard for himself, SSG Puente led his crew, commanded his tank, and facilitated the maneuver of adjacent units orienting them into the best position to quell a secondary attack by the enemy. Moments following the blast, SSG Puente downplayed the seriousness of his injuries while reporting the status of his crew and tank. Aware that the nature of his injuries would require medical evaluation and that his tank sustained significant damage, SSG Puente refused immediate aid by his Loader and possessed the wherewithal to posture his stunned and disoriented crew in the best position to react to a potential complex ambush. Without hesitation, SSG Puente troubleshot an intercom malfunction, issued orders for his Driver to continue pressing through the enemy engagement area, directed his Loader to stay beneath his hatch in anticipation of a secondary explosion and designated new sectors of fire enabling his Gunner to reorient and scan aggressively for the enemy. SSG Puente’s immediate action and decisive leadership was the compelling factor that maximized his crew ability to stay in the fight. By keeping his Soldiers focused and damaged tank operational, SSG Puente effectively rendered the attack a failure and prevented the enemy from creating either a catastrophic loss of life or equipment. With his tank section separated by the engagement area, he acted quickly to help minimize the risk of each tank operating without the mutual support of the other. SSG Puente maneuvered his damaged tank to an adjacent avenue of approach that effectively denied the enemy both freedom of maneuver and an escape route to the south. He then guided reinforcements to his location and established blocking positions to isolate and secure the area to allow first responders to conduct recovery and post blast analysis. His quick decision making and situational awareness freed his platoon leadership to coordinate for additional support and prevented the enemy from exploiting the situation. SSG Puente refused to leave either his crew or tank for further medical treatment until he ultimately relented after the platoon Medic assessed his injuries.
His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflect distinct credit upon himself, the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment “Silver Lions,” The 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the United States Army.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Herald Tribune 9-1-1 stories

There were several 9-1-1 stories written by Zac Anderson which were published this past Saturday, Sunday and today (Monday).

I think I have them all. See these links:

Critical flaws in Florida's 911 system

911's experience gap

The legacy of Denise Amber Lee

Standards and accreditation at 911 call centers

911 rules are a hard sell

FWIW, I cannot give much incite as to other counties 9-1-1 centers. I have to trust what Mr Anderson has written. I have met Mr Anderson a couple of times and his diligence truly impressed my husband and me. And, believe me, we've met many reporters.

This is a little off topic but I have to say the majority of the reporters I've met, let's say 80%, I have genuinely gotten to like. I think most of them do care and look at us as more than just a story. There is that other 20% that I think are snakes. There's that 80/20 rule. I imagine this to be the case in most industries. You've got nice people, and then you have the "pleasant" but not really so nice people.

I'll lump Zac in with the 80%. He's got to be one of the smartest and most driven reporters I've met. I was truly impressed. And, for him it most definitely was about his story. But, he still was able to express compassion for us as a family. He gave our thoughts and feelings respect.

Also, FWIW, we're not media "whores". Someone said something not so nice to me the other day and I just want to set the record straight. We don't like the spotlight. We have been thrust into a situation that's not comfortable for us. Putting your pain on display the way Nathan has, isn't easy. But he does it. Rick (Goff) does it. I do it. Why? Well, I know why I do it. I do it for Nathan. I'd do anything for Nathan if it was the right thing for him. Same for Brian. But I can only guess as to why Nathan and Rick do it. I guess it's because they (me too) desperately NEVER want to see this happen to another family. Denise fought so hard. To fight the way she did and then to die in vain? It's still seems so surreal to me. We know there will always be mistakes. We know that to err is human. And, we truly can forgive human error. But, we have a very difficult time forgiving people that don't recognize the problems (or worse do recognize the problems) and don't fix them at the expense of loss of life. It just seems unconscionable.

I don't think Mr Anderson was trying to throw anyone under the bus as was said in many comments to his articles. Publishing people's names for mistakes they made in the past, made me a bit uncomfortable but maybe he needed to do that for credibility.

I'm just grateful he wrote the articles. For a while I felt as if I was going crazy because it seemed as if no-one was listening. I feel saddened that Denise's case isn't isolated. It would be so much easier to accept and understand if it was.

When it happened, I had an inkling of "this must happen more than we suspect. We never would have known about it if Ms Kowalski hadn't been so persistant in being heard." I imagined it happening in big cities and small towns. I thought that right away. Imagine the cover ups. I think they're scattered through the country.

The CCSO has absolutely no transparency at all.

So, I'm truly am glad he wrote the articles. He did his research.

I do hope that, if anything, it brings about awareness. And that when future legislation is presented, that maybe this will help sway people's votes into making positive changes in the 9-1-1 industry.

And, FWIW, then I'll stop running on, out of the 4 9-1-1 calls Sarasota County received the night we lost Denise, ALL were handled perfectly. Kudos from us to them.

God bless all call takers and dispatchers, everywhere, with guidance and strength.

Anyone have any ideas of how we can Governor Crist's attention? He's the only person who can insist on an external investigation into what happened in the CCSO 9-1-1 center that night.

You'd think he'd be interested in this! So far, he's ignored our attempts at communication with him.

I'm thinking of starting a petition and going door to door. The only problem with that is, I'd have to tell Denise's story over and over again. How painful would that be? And even if the angels in blue were to do it, it would still be painful for them as well. They never met Denise but they've grown to love her.

I hate the idea of email. Because, it's cold and I don't know if email petitions are taken as seriously as hand signed petitions. Maybe at future events we should have a petition clip board and carry it wherever we go.

I'm just starting to think (not aloud) but as I type. Same thing.

Oh! several people have asked about the picture at the top right of the blog. Ben, Tammy's ( husband took it. Mark was very upset over the gray hair. So, I'll be doing something about that tomorrow. Still, I think it's a great pic because it expresses exactly how I was feeling.

Much love and peace to all. And thank you, Zac Anderson, for bringing light to this issue.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rant to Dispatch Monthly

sorry to clutter my blog with this but my comment was too long so I have to use a link to say all I want to say

In response to:

Editorial By all accounts, a single dispatcher did not take sufficient actions on a 911 call, and Amber Lee died. As is common after tragic events, the public became outraged, and there energy focused on the only place they could targert--dispatchers in general. Lee's husband and father turned their attention to the issue of dispatcher training requirements, and learned that APCO had already been pushing legislation to standardize training. But that bill was not only unfunded, it was "unrequired." The bill that was eventually passed failed to require any agency to do anything, let alone give them money to do it. So one year after the incident, the involved dispatcher was disciplined, and the residents of Florida are back to exactly the same point they were a year ago. And what point is that? No matter how much training you require or funding that you provide, the actions of a single person can have huge consequences, both good and bad. If dispatchers aren't performing their jobs, people can be put in jeopardy. Mistakes, oversights, inattention and downright maliciousness can all have an effect on the public safety. But it's still a single mistake made by a single person. It's not an indictment of the entire system, which I should point out is operating every day with remarkably good results. So, while the friends and family of Amber Lee are justly right to be concerned, they should devote their energy to the right cause. In this case, it was one person who didn't perform, not the entire dispatching community. Read about Lee's memorial activities here.

First, in regards to Denise's case no-one is blaming a "single dispatcher". There were many mistakes made that night.

The biggest mistake being made by a "call-taker" who has been on the job for 15 years and who refuses to use the CAD system appropriately. So, before you start ranting over this I suggest you learn a little more about it. Anyhow, this call taker has been reprimanded at least twice that we know of before for not entering things immediately into the CAD. She prefers to write things down and then likes to enter them into the CAD system. Even though she's been "trained" otherwise. The 9-1-1 call in question was received at 6:30 PM by the call taker. The call lasted 9 (nine) minutes. When listening to the 9-1-1 tape you can hear the call taker is rattled. She puts the caller on mute and is asking for direction because she's rattled. During those 9 minutes she tells the caller to "bear with me, ma'am, everyone is hollering at me".... The caller is giving her cross streets of where she is seeing Denise (who she thinks is a child because Denise was petite). Anyhow, the call-taker instead of entering information into the CAD (deputies in the field are waiting for this) she writes it all down on a piece of paper and yells it across the room. According to the investigation she says she yells it to Dispatcher A. But Dispatcher A and B testify she yells it to Dispatcher B. Are you getting the picture? The supervisor testifies she "doesn't know what's going on because she was busy patching radios" and so the call is never dispatched and at 6:42 the information is finally entered into the CAD. That's 12 minutes from the origination of the call. I, personally, think those 12 minutes were a bit "crucial" to my daughter-in-law. Do I sound angry. Well, I am.

They never dispatched a car.

During the investigation into this call the call-taker when asked about her training. Chuckled.

Yes, she chuckled. She said she's been there 15 years!

That's bothersome to us.

Add to that the 9-1-1 center sent their Teletype operator home early and the Teletype IMO went unmonitored for over 3 hours. Why do I believe that? Because 3 (three) BOLOs were ignored. IGNORED. These BOlOs gave a description of the subject and his car. This is bad. Really bad. The Teletype went unmonitored because the CCSO sent the operator home early so they wouldn't have to pay overtime. Now this isn't unusual and so when they do this they have the dispatchers monitor the Teletype. Well, they say they did. But....... I don't know. Those BOLO's were IGNORED. Sadly and unfortunately for Denise that was a pretty crucial time.

Add to that the 9-1-1 center, then NEVER notified the agency who had jurisdiction about the call! GEE! I wonder why? Especially when they knew the call was from THE LAST PERSON TO SEE DENISE ALIVE! The detectives covering Denise's case had to "request" information on the call after receiving 4 calls from the caller. She thought she was getting one agency when her call went to another! Gee! Is there a problem there?

No, this 9-1-1 center didn't put the bullet in Denise's head. But it didn't do a whole lot to help her either.

So, I proved your point the best training and the best technology in the world is useless if it isn't used. And it wasn't used here.

So standards and certification? Yeah, it's our opinion their needed otherwise you'll continue to have call-takers like ours.

BTW she never followed up to see what happened. She never followed through to see if her communication was recieved. She went home. She "just left".

And according to the report has no remorse and doesn't see that she did anything wrong.

Would you want her working for you?

If you have any questions about this you can either request a copy of the IA investigation from Charlotte County Sheriff's Office # 08-01-003 initiated 01-20/2008
or you can email me at

Trust me. It's all in the report.

Peggy Lee (Denise Amber Lee's mother-in-law who read the IA 3 times to figure it all out).

So, there were several errors that night. If you need more, just let me know.

Sorry for the rant but.... you kinda asked for it.

Denise Amber Lee Tribute 1/17/2009

Gosh, I hesitate to even write about the tribute. It was that moving.

My best memory of the day? Was feeling a solidarity with Sue (Denise's mom). We've been through a lot together this past year in jockeying the boys back and forth in an effort to help Nathan. But today was the first tribute, memorial, service (whatever you want to call it) where we actually got to sit next to each other. I got to hold Sue's hand briefly during the tribute. This will sound silly to her, I'm sure, but it was such an honor. I mean, here we are, two very different people but still bonded in such a way because of the grandbabies.

And, today, the Sun-Herald quoted Rick (Denise's dad) and I felt a certain solidarity with him. Because, I too, think of Denise when I wake up. I think of Denise when I go to bed. And I think of Denise when I drive around during the day whether it's going to the store and leaving work. I think of Denise 24/7.

Some people think we need to move on. It was said a little today. But, as I've posted before, it's just not that easy. Believe me! I wish it were! I know Denise wouldn't want us to be unhappy! Denise is the last person in this world or the next who would want us to be unhappy!

Today did mark many happy things. I couldn't believe the support of so many people. All the new friends, all the old friends, and family came out that we weren't expecting.

Bobbie and Donna, I can't tell you how very VERY much your presence there meant to Mark, Mom and me. You know I don't have any family down here and Mark and Mom are it for them. So, your presence brought such comfort and meant more than mere words in a blog can say.

Nancy! Geez, thank you. So many people. So much love.

I got to meet the Teehee family today. That, too, was an honor. I very much look forward to getting to know them better. I was emotionally only ready to talk to Carol and Tab. I wasn't able to embrace the children. I don't know why. It was just too much to take in for me. Meeting Carol and Tab was special. The pain mirrored. You just hate to see others experiencing such pain. I think it was there oldest boy, I'm not sure, but as I walked away from their family the last time (it was difficult to part from them) I looked into the eyes of the one boy and saw some of the pain I see in Nathan's eyes.

I got to meet Jane Kowalski for a second time. Gosh, she's quite a lady. I really like her. I love her and honor her for what she did for Denise. But I really like her, just as a person. She's seems to be the type of person I could be good friends with. She has character and strength. She has a grace about her. Plus, I really like her new haircut. It was cute and I think it's a haircut I could get away with. It didn't look like it was too much work but it was attractive. Hey! Now that's a good sign of healing. I'm thinking about hairdos! I feel like that Virginia Slims commercial (without the cigarette) "you've come a long way, baby!"

My friends from POMC. Gosh, yes, I promise to be there Wednesday. {{HUGS}} to Cathy. You, too, Dan.

Also, there were the many angels in blue. Okay, here I'm tearring up. And they are angels of blue. Denise would've have fit in perfectly with these ladies. Most of them are young North Port and Port Charlotte moms with gentle souls. They remind me of when I was a young Hampstead mom in Maryland. Their kids are mostly the ages Brian and Nathan were before we moved. So, I understand their kinship to each other and how dependent they are on one another for support. What a fun time. I've finally gotten to the point where I can remember ALL their names and some of their husbands names (Yes, Meri, I remember it's Tom, for how long I'll remember I don't know) but I can't even begin to remember all the kids names. I wish I could because those kids are out there wearing Denise's blue shirts with pride! They are really into this. How wonderful it that?

Oh, I could go on. We've met so many interesting, wonderful people. Nate has so much support. Gosh, I'm just Denise's mother-in-law and look at the support they give me! I honestly don't know where we would be without them, especially the angels in blue.

Nate, I was very proud of you today. I know it was difficult. I could see your struggle and your pain. I guess, being your mom, I feel it instinctively.

But! I could also see your passion and your drive. Gosh! I hadn't seen you like that since you were the catcher for Lemon Bay. You are super serious about this. You're driven. And, yes, you really should go into some kind of public service. You care! And people see it. People feel it! Yes, I definitely public office in your future. You've got the compassion and the integrity needed to do good things. And what better place than North Port! What a fantastic community.

I know, Nate how much you want to be happy. I know how much you want those babies to be happy. Dad and I promise to try and get out of this funk we're in. We promise to make that effort. Maybe once we're out of this house. It's a heavy weight on your dad's shoulders. And mine.

I wish Brian could've been here today. I missed him so much. You two, really do need to get together more often. I know he misses you and wants to help in anyway he can.

I loved the way you expressed your love to the Goffs. I know how much they mean to you and I know how much Rick has been like a father to you. Didn't Amanda look beautiful today? It was so good to see Alecia. And, Tyler, he's getting too big for me to hug but he puts up with me anyway.

Aside to Amy: I haven't forgotten you. But, I simply can't find the words to express how much your friendship has meant to me.

It's absolutely surreal, that it took losing Denise, to find all these wonderful people. We've learned truly how wonderful North Port and Port Charlotte are. We ALWAYS made fun of North Port and Port Charlotte but your two communities have been simply awesome.

Okay! I'm sure I missed a whole bunch of people (like Kim and Jerry). I tell you the turn out was awesome. Even the police departments, fire departments, etc.... Oddly, no one from the CCSO came and I don't know why.

Anyhow, to get on with the service. It was BEAUTIFUL! It was in front of city hall and just gorgeous weather. Not too hot and not too cold. Scott Smith from the North Port Police Department opened the ceremony by playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes! WOW! Pastor Dave from our church (Englewood United Methodist Church) said a prayer and introduced Nathan. Nathan spoke well. He always does. Dave Dignam, oh gosh, he spoke. He actually wrote a letter to Denise. It was beautiful. I know it sounds morbid but I find nothing wrong with writing letters to those who have passed before us. State Representatives Paige Kreegel and Ken Roberson spoke. I had met Paige before and he's been wonderful to Nate. But I hadn't met Ken Roberson. Was I impressed! He's definitely on our side and spoke very strongly about improving 9-1-1. He was very passionate. I meant to speak to him afterwards but wasn't able to. I wish I had. Thank you, Representatives Kreegel and Roberson.

A young man from South Biscayne Baptist Church sang "I Can Only Imagine". Oh my! I don't know what was more moving. That or the bagpipes. At the close, Kim Perkins, (I'm not sure where she's from but I believe she sang at the memorial a year ago, not sure, I was numb) sang the Lord's Prayer. All were extraordinarily moving. It's difficult to describe in words. I'm not a writer.

Sadly, Mr Witz, who I believe is an exceptional writer wasn't there. He was memorializing his grandmother who he lost over Christmas. He could write about this much better than I. I can only describe my thoughts.

Chief Terry Lewis spoke for a few minutes. You can feel his emotion when he speaks about Denise and our families. This has truly effected him. He's been phenomenally supportive of our family. He's always there to answer a question. He helped me seek a therapist. He's helped Nathan in countless ways. This man definitely takes his job to heart and has true compassion. It emanates from him.

I have to say Pastor Dave (Baldridge) was the same way. His compassion just emanated. You can see he loves the children.

I can't say enough about City Commissioner, David Garofalo. I will do him the honor of spelling his name right from now on. David, if you're reading this, please know how much I appreciate your confidence and devotion to the foundation. You are truly a person I would love my sons and grandsons to emulate. YOU have a wonderful heart.

Actually, having said that, I don't believe there's a person I haven't mentioned that I wouldn't be proud to have my children or grandchildren emulate. They are all truly good people.

Denise, look at the impact you've made on so many people. You were one very VERY special lady. I'll always love you and I'll always miss you.

Jane Kowalski interview with North Port Police Department

Friday, January 16, 2009

And this from the Sun-Herald

(I absolutely love this story. It hurts and brings heartache but it expresses beautifully who Denise was and who Nathan is. Just two really great kids trying to raise a really great family. Thank you, Jason. I don't know how everyone else feels and can only speak for myself, but I'm moved to tears.)

last updated at 1/16/2009 3:13:39 PM

Ceremony to remember Denise Lee Saturday

Family still mourns murder of 21-year-old daughter, wife

Year in Review: Lee family still waiting for answers
Funeral, search, evidence photos
Remembrance Ceremony
Abduction, murder timeline

By JASON WITZ Staff Writer

Her words hit Nathan Lee like a winter rain.

She couldn't be serious.

The couple had spent the last hour budgeting at his parents' dining room table. Money was tight.
It didn't matter. Denise Amber Lee wanted an answer.

Nathan continued driving, although his eyes started to wander off the dark road as she spoke.

Their sons, Noah and Adam, rested in the backseat, oblivious to the discussion. Denise turned to them and smiled.

She faced her husband again.

"I want to have another baby," she said.

Nathan was stunned.

Paying for two boys was difficult enough. But Denise always dreamed of having a little girl.

"It caught me off guard," he said.

A year later, Nathan still regrets the reaction in what was their last night together.

The following afternoon, the 21-year-old North Port mother would be taken by a stranger in a green Chevrolet Camaro, according to authorities. She wouldn't return.

Every day, the memories resurface.

It feels so long ago.

And yet, today, the anniversary of Denise's murder is already here.

"I'm not looking forward to it," Nathan said recently. He now lives in Englewood with his sons, ages 3 and 18 months. "It's almost like the world is going to end."

A family's grief

There's a decal on Nathan Lee's truck of his wife, depicting better times.

Denise is smiling and happy. Her face shines against a heavenly white border, almost as if she's watching everyone.

"I know it sounds clichŽ, but Denise was an angel," said Nathan, 24.

The image stirs other reactions from his oldest son.

Noah, unlike his younger brother, can remember Denise clearly. The toddler will often reach for the picture, and say "mommy."

Many times, Nathan has to fight back tears.

"You just feel so bad," he said. "(The boys) don't deserve this."

The last year has brought out varying emotions from the family.

Some have questioned their faith, at one point or another. Others have come to appreciate the little things in life.

Peggy Lee uses words to channel her sorrow.

She started a blog in December as a way to express frustration, and at the same time, keep people updated.

"(The blog) has really helped me work through it," said Peggy, who is Nathan’s mother.

For Rick Goff, time hasn't eased the loss of his daughter.

"Every day is rough," he said, leaning against his living room wall, arms folded. "I go to bed thinking about her. I wake up thinking about her. I drive around during the day thinking about her.

"There’s a big hole in our family."

That pain is amplified by the fact that his agency fumbled an opportunity to save her life.

Even now, little has been done to correct those mistakes, according to Goff, a sergeant with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office.

"It's difficult to go in, because some of the people who made the fatal screw-ups are still there," he said. "I know they're working on the problem, but I don't think it's completely fixed."

Baby talk

Denise loved the idea of caring for another child, even if it stretched the budget.

Money didn't matter in the scheme of things. She was content drafting a shopping list and walking through Walmart with a calculator.

At first, Nathan was lukewarm to the idea.

He had recently started at Florida Power & Light, reading meters. They could survive on one income, but not with much wiggle room.

Still, Denise made it clear she wanted another baby, as she put the two boys to sleep that night.

"That was her top priority," he said. "My number-one goal was to make her happy, and if that made her happy, then that's what I would do."

Jan. 17, 2008

The morning started the same as any other day.

Denise was sleeping when Nathan left for work. A light rain tapped on the windowsill.

The day seemed to take forever.

Nathan talked to Denise earlier about opening up the house to save on electric costs.

Goff called Denise twice within a five-minute span that afternoon to invite the couple for dinner.

Oddly, she didn't answer.

Nathan returned home at 3:30 p.m. to find the windows shut, the air thick with humidity.

He could hear his sons in the bedroom.

Denise was gone, but her purse, keys and cell phone were left behind.

At 4:59 p.m., the first be-on-the-lookout bulletin, or BOLO, was issued by the North Port Police Department.

It named Denise, and gave a physical description of the possible suspect. It also mentioned the dark green Camaro, last seen in the Lees' driveway.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office already had sent its teletype operator home to avoid overtime, a common practice for the agency. It wouldn't broadcast details of the BOLOs until later.

During the ordeal, Tampa resident Jane Kowalski stopped at the Cranberry Boulevard intersection, on U.S. 41.

A Camaro crept alongside her vehicle, its passenger-side window partially down.

Kowalski saw a hand slapping the glass, trying to get out. Her 911 call was routed to Charlotte County, since her vehicle had crossed county lines.

She stayed on the phone nearly 10 minutes with dispatchers, describing the situation that, to her, appeared to be a kid screaming in a dark-colored Camaro.

The man turned onto Toledo Blade Boulevard during the conversation. Kowalski repeatedly asked whether she should follow the vehicle.

She parked at the Port Charlotte Town Center mall to await a follow-up interview.

No one came.

The Sheriff's Office didn't air any of Kowalski's information, which was handwritten on a piece of paper and shouted across the room by the dispatcher.

The suspect, Michael King, was apprehended shortly after 9 p.m. by the Florida Highway Patrol.

He was soaked from the waist down. Denise's ring was in the back seat of his car.

Her body was found two days later, buried off Toledo Blade, near Interstate 75.

King, 37, faces kidnapping, rape and capital murder charges. His trial is tentatively set for August, although counsel has asked for a competency hearing to raise the possibility of an insanity plea.


For months, Nathan Lee has reviewed the events in his mind, trying to understand why King wasn't caught earlier when so many opportunities existed.

He is convinced Denise would be alive if key information had been passed along to deputies saturating the area.

The department's response has added to the grief.

Two dispatchers were suspended without pay 36 and 60 hours, respectively, by the Sheriff's Office over the handling of Kowalski's call. The woman who took the call, Millie Stepp, wasn't punished.

Since the incident, the department has taken steps to counter future situations.

Supervisors will no longer carry a Nextel phone, as it added to the confusion that night with people not calling the recorded line, according to former Sheriff John Davenport. Information must be entered into the computer, rather than shouted across the room.

Goff said the problems still exist, despite the measures.

The Sheriff's Office won't comment on the case any longer, in part because of a pending lawsuit by the family.

911 reform

Nathan dreads to think all of this could happen to another family.

What's to keep the system from failing again? Something needs to change, he said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed the Denise Amber Lee Act, which establishes voluntary training standards for dispatchers statewide.

But the fight is far from over.

Family members started the Denise Amber Lee Foundation to create awareness about 911 issues, and to improve training.

To date, the fund has generated about $30,000. The goal is to have a training center locally, and to help the families of murder victims.

For Nathan, it’s become a personal mission.

In February, he will fly to San Diego to be the keynote speaker at a conference of the National Emergency Numbers Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes training and education for 911 service.

"The good thing is people are getting the message of what's going on," he said. "We want to instill faith back into the system, and make sure it's fixed so this doesn’t happen again."

The little things

Nathan assumed Denise would be there to greet him when he returned home that afternoon.

She would always be there, he thought, as they grew old together.

It didn’t work out that way.

The reasons why Denise was picked may never be known. The whole situation has given Nathan plenty of time to reflect and to re-examine his life.

Losing her hurts. It hurts beyond belief.

But Nathan has come to cherish what he has that much more.

"I’m trying to look at everything positively, because that’s the way Denise was," he said.

If anything, the situation has brought him closer to his sons.

Looking into their eyes, he can see Denise, and the love she continues to pour out.

"They’re as close as I can get to Denise," he said. "When I’m around them, I’m around her."

Remembrance Ceremony The Denise Amber Lee remembrance celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in front of North Port City Hall, off Sumter Boulevard.
Speakers include state Reps. Paige Kreegel and Ken Roberson; the Rev. Dave Baldridge, pastor of Englewood United Methodist Church; Dave Dignam of Key Agency in Englewood; North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis; North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo; and Nathan Lee, Denise's widower.
Abduction, murder timeline

Jan. 17, 2008
3:20 p.m.: Nathan discovered Denise is missing. A neighbor had seen a green Camaro in the Lees' driveway around 2:30 p.m.
5:15 p.m.: North Port resident Michael Lee King went to his cousin, Harold Muxlow's, house in North Port.
6:14 p.m.: Denise called 911: "I just want to see my family. Please let me go." A male voice asked, "Where's the phone?" The transmission was then cut. Police identified the owner of the cell phone as King and confirmed he owned a green Camaro.
6:23 p.m.: Sabrina Muxlow called 911, saying King visited her father, Harold. King asked Harold for a gas can, a flashlight and a shovel. Harold saw a bound woman get out of the car, but he gave King the items anyway. King left with the bound woman.
6:30 p.m.: Jane Kowalski, heading southbound on U.S. 41, spotted a dark Camaro at Cranberry Boulevard. She heard someone screaming and saw someone slap the back window. She called 911 and stayed on the line for more than nine minutes, providing exact locations until the Camaro suddenly turned left onto Toledo Blade Boulevard.
6:42 p.m. Police arrived at King's house on Sardinia Avenue, finding duct tape with long blond hairs.
9:16 p.m.: The Florida Highway Patrol spotted a green Camaro on Toledo Blade Boulevard, then heading south on Interstate 75. When the trooper stopped the car, he found King - alone, and soaked from the waist down. Law enforcement officers found a wet shovel, a red 5-gallon gas can, and a blue metal flashlight in the car. They also found a metal ring with a heart, which Nathan later identified as Denise's.
Jan. 18, 2008: Searchers discovered something in an area near Plantation Boulevard, off Toledo Blade.
Jan. 19, 2008: North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis announced they found the body of a white female.
Jan. 20, 2008: Lewis confirmed the body was that of Denise Amber Lee. - Source: North Port Police Department and court documents

Return to Top of story

SNN6 news story

Oh My! 9-1-1 and the State of Florida

Critical flaws in Florida's 911 system
By Zac Anderson
Published: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 1:00 a.m. Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 2:59 p.m.

First of three parts

Moving ceremony for Denise Lee
Harold Muxlow 911 call Audio
Sabrina Muxlow 911 call Audio
Jane Kowalski 911 call Audio
Dispatchers get 911 call from Denise Amber Lee Audio
Lee's father speaks in Tallahassee Audio
One year after Denise Lee's murder Video
911 caller tells police about hearing Denise Amber Lee's screams Video

Every year, Florida 911 workers make hundreds of critical errors that endanger lives and leave people waiting for help, a Herald-Tribune investigation has found.

Records show that Florida’s 911 call takers and dispatchers — the vital link between emergency responders and distressed callers — send help to the wrong address or neglect to send any help at all.

They fall asleep on the job and abandon their posts to run errands. They argue with heart attack victims and hang up on hysterical callers.

In the most egregious cases, 911 workers listen to callers’ pleas for help and simply decide not to send a police officer or ambulance.

Despite chronic errors and even deaths, state officials and many local agencies have done little to stop the mistakes.

Florida’s 911 centers have no uniform standards and little oversight. Unlike at least 32 other states, Florida does not mandate training or certification for dispatchers. In some cases, the Herald-Tribune found, dispatchers have been allowed to start processing calls just two days after being hired.

And the mistakes are piling up.

The newspaper spent six months gathering and analyzing five years’ worth of discipline reports and complaints against 911 centers across the state. The paper reviewed more than 1,000 cases from more than half of Florida’s 67 counties. It also interviewed more than 50 current and former 911 workers, supervisors, policymakers and victims of 911 mishaps.

Although the vast majority of calls are handled correctly, the newspaper found that mistakes occur every day and that government officials have neglected the 911 system, allowing it to lag years behind police, firefighters and paramedics in training and other standards.

Among the findings:

--Each year in Florida, hundreds of 911 dispatchers violate protocols designed to ensure swift and accurate emergency response, complaint documents show. More than a third of those mistakes delay the arrival of police, fire or medical responders, threatening lives.

--Hundreds more 911 employees demonstrate gross unprofessionalism with actions that include sleeping on the job, not showing up for work, leaving stations unattended or turning off emergency alert tones so that they will not be disturbed.

--Dozens of errors put emergency responders in jeopardy when dispatchers failed to fully describe a dangerous situation or update criminal databases. A Gainesville police officer faced a suspected killer during a traffic stop on Sept. 14, 2006, but did not know because of a dispatcher’s error, records show.

--Heavy turnover and training standards that vary widely from one community to the next virtually ensure mistakes will be made by overworked, ill-prepared phone and radio operators. Even so, top law enforcement officials lobby against more training because of concerns about money.

--Most 911 centers have adopted standards that draw on accepted industry practices. But no minimum standards are required by Florida law. In addition, Florida officials do not require 911 centers to track mistakes or determine if errors were fatal.

--Even when mistakes are discovered, 911 administrators often dole out light punishment, allowing operators to rack up multiple mistakes without serious consequences. A Bradenton dispatcher was reprimanded for 9 offenses during her first 11 months on the job. Three times she sent rescue workers to the wrong address on “serious calls,” and once she failed to alert police about a missing 4-year-old.

Julie Righter, a national expert on 911 standards who runs a center in Nebraska, said 911 workers have an extremely tough job and handle most calls without incident.

They perform thankless work for little pay, yet are a key cog in a system that saves lives. But Righter also said that the competence of a 911 operator should not be a factor in whether someone lives or dies. And many 911 centers have a long way to go before the proper standards are in place to ensure there is little chance “you’ll have an error when someone’s life is on the line,” she said.

Raising standards has been difficult. The two main voices of law enforcement in Florida — the Florida Police Chief’s Association and the Florida Sheriff’s Association — have opposed increased requirements because of the expense.

In the absence of statewide standards, the 911 system has continued to tolerate mistake after mistake.

Widespread problems

Every so often, a tragic error by a 911 dispatcher captures headlines because someone dies.

A year ago today, a mishandled call to Charlotte County’s 911 center robbed law enforcement officers of a critical opportunity to save 21-year-old Denise Lee.

A concerned driver heard someone screaming in the back of a Camaro on U.S. 41 and called 911. The caller was so concerned she stayed on the phone for nine minutes, following the car to give street-by-street locations.

Although 911 workers suspected that the passenger might be Lee, dispatchers failed to send help.

Several deputies were just minutes away.

The young North Port mother was found two days later, buried in a shallow grave with a single gunshot wound.

Blame was passed around. The radio operators blamed the 911 call taker for shouting across the room instead of calmly sending a computer message. The Sheriff’s Office defended the call taker and disciplined the radio dispatchers for not taking action.

It was a communication breakdown that shook the community’s faith in the 911 system.

A year before Lee’s death, another death was attributed to inaction by 911 employees, this time in Pasco County. For seven minutes, 911 supervisor David Cook refused to offer lifesaving advice to a caller whose girlfriend was choking and near death. The supervisor did not want to get on the phone with a “hysterical caller,” according to reports in the St. Petersburg Times. Co-workers later reported that when Cook learned the woman had died, he joked, “She must have bitten off more than she can chew.”

More recently, inaction by dispatchers was partly blamed for the death of a Plantation woman who dialed 911 while driving to the police station.

For three minutes she begged for help as a man with a gun chased her down the street. She described where she was and told the 911 operator she was driving to the police station. But when she arrived, no officers had been sent to protect her.

The man shot Olidia Kerr Day to death, then killed himself.

Many of the officials who run the state’s 250-plus 911 centers argue that these sensational episodes are the result of isolated and rare human errors.

But the Herald-Tribune found hundreds of mishandled calls that might have contributed to someone’s death if not for one thing — luck.

--In Escambia County, a new 911 call taker sent ambulances to the wrong address three times in a four-month span. She delayed help for an unconscious person, car accident victims and a person having a seizure. In the car accident case, the caller gave the location as North Z Street and repeated “Z, like zebra,” records show. The dispatcher entered North C Street.

--At least twice in the past five years in Pinellas County, ambulance drivers arrived on the scene to find their patients holding a gun. The 911 workers failed to warn the paramedics, according to a complaint log.

--In Sarasota County, a woman called 911 from the Chili’s restaurant in Venice to report an unconscious person and clearly stated the address. The dispatcher sent paramedics to a Chili’s in Sarasota.

--In Hardee County, a 911 worker walked out of the call center, leaving it empty with no one to answer the phone for eight minutes while she looked for a co-worker. Another worker failed to report an escaped prisoner who had jumped out of a window at a nearby county courthouse. Five days later, the same woman sent paramedics to the wrong address for a heart attack, delaying help by 27 minutes, records show.

The Herald-Tribune found more than 600 similar mistakes statewide in the past five years. The actual number is likely measured in thousands. The Herald-Tribune was only able to review complaints and discipline reports from about 40 of the state’s more than 250 centers that directly or indirectly handle 911 calls.

Several dozen agencies contacted by the newspaper did not comply with Florida public records law, failing to respond to written and e-mailed public records requests. Other centers reported no problems or just a handful, even though 911 experts say errors occur in most centers practically every day.

Why mistakes happen

There is a reason so many 911 workers — nearly 75 percent for some agencies — leave within the first year.

They are asked to field life-or-death calls under extreme stress for less than $30,000 a year.
In a matter of seconds, they must ask the right questions to understand an emergency, assign a priority to the call and pass on the correct information to responders.

The large number of non-emergencies, nearly half of all calls for some agencies, can create a “boy who cried wolf” phenomenon, in which workers take real emergencies less seriously because they have dealt with so many minor issues.

Add it all up and the potential for errors — misunderstanding an address, pushing the wrong key on a computer keyboard, getting distracted — is high.

That is why the best dispatch centers establish excruciatingly detailed protocols for answering 911 calls and require months of intense training. They make sure seemingly small errors do not go unmentioned and hold people to high standards.

But in Florida, the 911 agencies have been left largely on their own, with no statewide requirements for training, staffing or quality control, little oversight and paltry state funding.
As a result, training and monitoring vary widely.

In Bradenton, new 911 dispatchers have 14 weeks to master everything and begin working on their own. They learn on the job with no classroom training. In Broward County, new hires spend 12 weeks confined to a classroom and the training program lasts a full year.

The lack of standards is a problem nationwide, said Nancy Pollock, a 911 consultant who ran centers in Minnesota.

“Unfortunately the only way this is going to change is if the highest government in an area takes ownership of this, and in most cases that’s the state,” she said.

In the absence of a state standard, several national accreditation programs lay out best practices.

Yet because the state does not push accreditation, only 15 of Florida’s 911 centers, among them Sarasota County’s, have qualified.

Ignoring the problem

Many of the county governments, sheriff’s offices and municipalities that oversee 911 centers do little to track life-threatening mistakes.

The state of New York requires every 911 center to track complaints.

But only a few of the Florida centers contacted by the Herald-Tribune could provide copies of a complaint log, or a list of every disciplinary action taken against 911 employees. For many, the only way to review 911 errors is to pull dozens of individual personnel files, and sift through thousands of pages looking for discipline reports.

Even that will not catch all of the mistakes because documents describing errors are not always retained.

As a result, many 911 centers operate with no way of knowing how many errors are made, who is making them and how to reduce errors.

In Escambia County, 911 manager Bob Boschen said he began keeping a complaint log after the Herald-Tribune contacted him to request complaint documents last year.

Boschen said he realized that tracking problems is part of providing “the best customer service.” His goal now is to have less than two valid complaints a month.

Some Florida 911 agencies, including Escambia, systematically seek out mistakes in regular audits of every dispatcher.

In Sarasota County, dispatch managers randomly review 10 law enforcement calls each week and 3 percent of medical calls each month to make sure employees verified addresses, classified emergencies properly and asked the right questions.

The checks expose where employees need training and discourage complacency, said Sarasota sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Bell, who runs the 911 center.

“It’s a little scary because you’re really opening yourself for criticism,” said Pollock, the consultant. “But a smart manager views complaints as a good thing. If you have something wrong you want to know about it before something really tragic happens.”

Yet while some agencies have documented more than 100 problems in their 911 centers over the past five years through complaint tracking, the Herald-Tribune found four agencies that recorded no problems at all. Others had very few.

The Bradenton Police Department — an agency with 15 dispatchers — had 20 discipline cases, while Charlotte County, with more than twice as many dispatchers, had just 10.

A former Charlotte County 911 worker told the Herald Tribune that she witnessed problems in the center that went undocumented.

Amy Corbett, who worked in Charlotte County’s 911 center for four months in 2006 and left for personal reasons, said most of the people in the 911 center were competent professionals, but she remembered an incident where a call taker was sleeping on the job and the other workers just laughed and threw candy at her.

“I didn’t see them handle mistakes that happened,” Corbett said. “Some were swept under the carpet, or you’d just have a supervisor talk to you, but it was never anything that was formal.”
Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sherman Robinson said his office has no record that Corbett reported the problems she saw in the 911 center. Robinson said that if a problem was brought to their attention they would have taken action.

Charlotte does not keep a complaint log. Officials say their informal system works because they get few complaints, and discipline is adequate.

“I can’t tell you the last time I got a complaint,” Robinson said. “I think we hold people to a pretty good standard.

Few consequences

Beyond training and monitoring, some experts say dispatch mistakes in Florida have been increased by lax punishment when errors are discovered.

In some cases, even when a mistake ends in tragedy, the punishment is light.

The two dispatchers who did not send deputies to investigate the 911 call shortly before Lee’s death were each suspended but stayed on the job. It was the first time in five years that Charlotte County had suspended a dispatcher, a common punishment elsewhere. Then-Sheriff John Davenport said they were good employees who just slipped up.

The Herald-Tribune’s investigation found that punishment levels vary widely from one place to the next.

In Alachua County, where the 911 center has been held up as a model of excellence, employees are twice as likely to be suspended as 911 workers statewide, the Herald-Tribune’s analysis shows.

But in many 911 centers, managers tolerate repeated mistakes.One Manatee County dispatcher delayed emergency workers six times during her first year on the job, including not sending an ambulance to a motorcycle accident. She was suspended for one day.

Other Manatee dispatchers have similar track records. One was late for work fives times in a year and received a day’s suspension. Another was disciplined five times in a year — for insubordination, attendance problems and an ambulance delay — without receiving more than a letter of counseling.

In April 2008, 17-year-old Braden River High School senior Bre Doran’s boyfriend flipped his truck near State Road 64 in Manatee County. Doran passed out when her head shattered the windshield. When she woke up, Doran could not move her neck.

“It hurt so bad,” she said.

A passing driver called 911.

At the Manatee County 911 center, Mary Ellen Holloway took the call. She made a computer mistake and the information was never forwarded to a radio dispatcher responsible for sending an ambulance.

Doran waited 91 minutes before the error was discovered and an ambulance arrived.
It was not Holloway’s first mistake.

Four months earlier, in December 2007, Holloway committed the same computer error and failed to send help to a woman complaining of abdominal pain.

The error that left Doran stranded was Holloway’s fourth discipline episode in seven months. She received a warning and remedial training.

Holloway said the experience with Doran’s truck rollover shook her. She has not had an error since.

“The county takes very seriously issues like that, and I know for myself it was scary for me,” Holloway said.

Bill Hutchison, Manatee County’s public safety director, said he believes the agency has a balanced approach to discipline. The best thing for the public is often to retrain employees, not fire them, he said.

The Herald-Tribune analysis found that punishments statewide rarely end a dispatcher’s career. Only 2 percent of the complaints ended in termination and only 18 percent involved a demotion, loss of job or a suspension.

Most people escape with a warning, even after repeat mistakes involving high priority calls: those involving medical emergencies or imminent threat.

The Herald-Tribune found more than 25 people who kept their job even after being disciplined four times and nearly 200 employees who were disciplined at least twice.

Escambia County 911 dispatcher John “Jason” Dunn had 10 discipline episodes between 2004 and 2007, the most for his agency.

Dunn had five documented ambulance delays in three years, including one episode where he came into work groggy after staying up for 24 hours and sent paramedics to the wrong nursing home for a patient with “chest pains and in severe respiratory distress.”

In an interview last week, Dunn noted that he has not had an error in more than a year.
“Five delays, that sounds like a lot, right?” he said. “I know it seems bad, but you have to consider the total volume of calls, the hundreds of thousands of calls I handled perfectly. It’s tough because every call is important. It’s a job where you want 100 percent accuracy, but that’s impossible.”

Staff writer Chris Davis contributed to this report.