Monday, February 23, 2009

Today's Sun Herald

Published on: Monday, February 23, 2009

Lee to speak at 911 conference in California

NORTH PORT -- Speaking to television crews and newspaper reporters of his wife's abduction and murder is something Nathan Lee has made a part of his mission to get the word out about what he calls a "broken 911 system."

Tuesday, Nathan will share that message with thousands in California expected at a 911 conference.

The story of 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee's death last January made national headlines. Nathan, 24, spoke on the "Dr. Phil" show, NBC's "Dateline," "20/20" and on local TV news about how that fateful Jan. 17, 2008, day changed many lives.

Now during interviews, Nathan explains how a foundation of volunteers has been created in Denise's name. Its mission is to improve the 911 dispatch system and bring a state-of-the-art 911 call center to North Port.

On Sunday, members of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation -- Nathan, the president; his father, Mark, research director; Dave Dignam, advisory council director; and North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo, community relations director -- flew to California for the annual California National Emergency Number Association conference. The team will support Nathan, who was invited to be the keynote speaker.

The three-day event will offer breakout sessions and discussions on technological advances, overcoming challenges, and truths and myths about radio systems, history, regionalizing systems and numerous other lessons for 911 dispatchers.

On Tuesday, Nathan will have an hour and a half to tell his story of life after Denise's murder.

Just one year later, his story includes a lawsuit against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office claiming "negligence leading to Denise's death." Nathan says none of the critical information provided by Tampa resident Jane Kowalski, the last witness believed to have seen Denise alive, was relayed to CCSO deputies or North Port police officers during the massive manhunt on the night Denise was killed.

Traveling on U.S 41 near the Charlotte-Sarasota county line, Kowalski told a Charlotte County 911 dispatcher what she was witnessing in the dark-colored Camaro alongside her, reportedly driven by suspect Michael King. Kowalski said she saw someone banging on the window and screaming. The car turned onto Toledo Blade Boulevard during her conversation.

Denise's body was found two days later off Toledo Blade, near Interstate 75.

The CCSO did not relay Kowalski's information to North Port police until then, when local investigators requested it. North Port only learned about Kowalski after she called city police to see if they were interested in what she witnessed. Kowalski maintains that following her nine-minute 911 call, Charlotte County has never tried to call her again for any additional information.

King, 37, of North Port, was charged with Denise's abduction, rape and murder. His trial is set for August.

"Last year, I learned that when Denise's story was told to a group of dispatchers, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Even the instructor had a difficult time continuing the class," Nathan said. "Denise should be here with our two boys (Noah, 3, and Adam, 19 months) today. I will take every opportunity offered to explain that more needs to be done about the broken 911 system.

"This is an opportunity for our organization to reach across state lines and let our country know that the foundation's ultimate goal is to increase the level of training for 911 call takers and dispatchers, eventually making these standards mandatory," he said. "We hope to gain a working relationship with the state of California, which already has increased levels of training."

Garofalo, a fire captain in Pasco County, said first responders should be afforded additional training.

"No one should ever worry when they call for help that a 911 operator, a police officer or firefighter is not properly trained," he said.

For more information about the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, visit



North Port Community News Editor