Monday, October 19, 2009
By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH
North Port Community News Editor
Tuesday, Nathan Lee and Jane Kowalski are scheduled to appear on "Good Morning America" to talk about life after the 2008 kidnapping, rape and murder of Nathan's wife, Denise Amber Lee.
Nathan recently filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, alleging the handling of 911 call made by Kowalski was botched by CCSO dispatchers, leading to Denise's death.
The 21-year-old mother of two was abducted from her North Port home Jan. 17, 2008, by Michael King, who raped and murdered her. The 38-year-old was convicted on Sept. 4. Jurors unanimously recommended the death penalty, which a judge will decide later on this year.
Kowalski, of Tampa, testified during King's trial that she saw him driving a dark-colored Camaro with someone screaming and slapping the window in the back seat on the night Denise was kidnapped. After she called 911 to report the strange incident, call center staff did not dispatch deputies to Toledo Blade Boulevard, where Kowalski saw King turn off.
Denise had been trapped in King's car. Her body was found buried off Toledo Blade two days later.
"They called me to be on the show and tell Denise's story," Nathan said Monday. "I've always said Denise did not die in vain. She would want me to do this to help prevent anyone else from being hurt, and to fix the 911 system."
Following Denise's death, Nathan, his family and friends created the Denise Amber Lee Foundation to strengthen the 911 system and create universal, mandatory training for all call takers. Lee has been to 10 states talking representing the foundation telling Denise's story and lobbying for minimum standards for training, protocol and equipment for all call centers.
"Good Morning America" begins at 7 a.m. on ABC, Comcast channel 7.
This isn't the first time Nathan has been on national TV promoting a "much needed" 911 overhaul. He's also been on the "Dr. Phil" show and "Dateline NBC."
Denise's story is also featured in this month's Reader's Digest. The article, by Michael Crowley, cites several examples of "911 Calls Gone Tragically Wrong," including an Orlando woman who called 911 after she was kidnapped. In that case, the operator lectured the woman for not telling him where she was during the call. Her ex-boyfriend shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself, Crowley wrote.
The article leads off: "One afternoon in January 2008, Nathan Lee returned home from work to find his two little boys crammed into the same crib, crying. Their mother had left behind her cell phone and purse and disappeared."
The article goes on to state: "A spate of recent cases reveal shocking flaws in our national emergency response system -- at a cost measured in lives."
Saturday, October 17, 2009
OUR POSITION: There are no defensible reasons for Charlotte County to engage in a long, ugly battle in the Lee family civil lawsuit.
We see four good reasons the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office should move as quickly as possible to settle the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit brought by the family of Denise Amber Lee:
* It is the right thing to do.
* We look very bad.
* It may well cost more in the long run.
* Some small good may come of all this.
Nathan Lee filed the long-expected lawsuit Wednesday, a month and a half after a jury in Sarasota found Michael King guilty of kidnapping his wife, Denise, from her North Port home, then raping and murdering her. The jury also recommended the death penalty for King.
The question of the culpability of the Sheriff's Office remains, though. From all evidence so far, we can only conclude that the 911 dispatch center terribly botched a call from an eyewitness that might have saved Denise Lee's life. Nathan Lee contends the breakdown in communications showed "severe incompetence." We can't argue otherwise. Whether it was a matter of improper protocol or operator error, the bottom line is that we -- that is, the Sheriff's Office acting on our behalf -- bear some responsibility.
From the beginning, the Sheriff's Office has reacted to public accusations of wrongdoing with a defensive stance that only seemed arrogant and offensive. That has been counterproductive. It rubbed salt in a deep wound. It was wrong.
As Nathan Lee told the Sun's Elaine Allen-Emrich Tuesday, "The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office should be our biggest ally in trying to fix the 911 system, but instead they just want to fight us every step of the way."
He is right, and we need to put a stop to this as soon as possible.
For one thing, it's simply the right thing to do. We need to admit that we bear some responsibility.
A protracted civil court battle will only compound past mistakes. It prolongs the pain for the family. It makes us look even worse than we already appear. The longer we fight, the higher the legal bills. The county is in the position of fighting an extremely sympathetic plaintiff. A jury might always chose to "send a message" with a harsh judgment. There is no defensible reason to string this along until a last-minute jury drawing, a common legal tactic. There is no reason to believe the Lee family would accept one at that point.
Instead, the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office should:
* Work on a swift settlement. The sooner the better.
* Admit responsibility for mistakes and apologize.
* Agree to become a working model for top-flight 911 emergency operations.
* Work with the Denise Amber Lee Foundation in its effort to reform and improve emergency call standards nationwide, including higher levels of mandatory training for call takers.
We need to admit errors, reach a fair settlement and embrace change. We need to do the right thing. It would help to create a proper legacy for a young woman whose life might have been spared if the department had done its job properly. It could bring something good and decent from this horror.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
One afternoon in January 2008, Nathan Lee returned home from work to find his two little boys crammed into the same crib, crying. Their mother had left behind her cell phone and purse and disappeared. Within a couple of hours, police in her southwest Florida town had a pretty good idea of what had happened to Denise Amber Lee. She'd been spotted tied up with rope—had even managed to briefly call 911—while in the backseat of a car owned by a 36-year-old unemployed plumber named Michael King.
Some calls aren't taken seriously because the system is burdened with stupid calls, especially now that everyone has a cell.Around 6:30 that evening, a woman placed an urgent call to 911 reporting the precise location of King's Camaro. It had pulled up alongside her car at a traffic light, and she could see someone crying out for help and banging on the back window. (She thought it was a child.) Just a few miles away, police were desperately searching for Denise with dogs and a helicopter.
But tragically, the 911 center never passed along the motorist's report. One officer later told Denise's father he was "sure" the Camaro had driven right by him, but no one had told him to watch out for it. The next time anyone saw Denise Lee was a few days later. She was lying naked in a shallow grave; she'd been sexually assaulted and shot. "There is no doubt in my mind that if the 911 call had been handled properly, she would still be here," Nathan Lee says. "It will haunt me for the rest of my life."
If there's one thing we think we can count on, it's that a frantic call to 911 will bring a swift and effective response. Government's first priority, after all, is protecting its citizens. But a spate of recent cases reveal shocking flaws in our national emergency response system—at a cost measured in lives. It's a system overstressed by boneheaded calls about everything from hangnails to poor restaurant service, weakened by state governments raiding its funds, and hobbled by the incompetence of a few bad apples.
"You roll the dice" when making a call for emergency help, admits Ronald Bonneau, who runs a 911 center 30 miles south of Chicago. "Frankly, there are centers out there where the operators are not very well trained."
One of those inadequately trained operators was the Pittsburgh-area 911 worker who took a call from a woman last April asking police to remove her 22-year-old son from her home. When the operator asked whether the man, Richard Poplawski, had any weapons, the mother responded, "Yes, but they're all legal."
"Okay, but he's not threatening you with anything?" the operator asked.
"Look, I'm just waking up," the woman said. "I want him gone."
The operator reported the call to the police dispatcher with a note indicating that the son had "no weapons." As a result, police walked into a death trap. Poplawski, a former Marine recruit who'd been tossed out of boot camp, had donned a bulletproof vest and set up an ambush. He opened fire with an AK-47 rifle and two other guns, killing three officers and wounding a fourth.
Then there's the case of Brittany Zimmermann. In May 2008, the 21-year-old University of Wisconsin student dialed 911, then hung up without saying anything. Never mind the audible screams and sounds of struggle in the background—all caught on tape—the operator insists she heard no noise on the line. She neither informed police nor tried to call back. Later that day, Zimmermann's fiancé found her stabbed and beaten to death in her apartment. The call, police later acknowledged, "should have resulted in a Madison police officer being dispatched"—an action that might have saved the young woman's life.
Human error might also have cost the life of Darlene Dukes, an Atlanta woman who called 911 last August gasping for breath. Dukes, 39, reached a dispatcher who already had a string of mishandled calls on her record and who, according to her supervisor, had once fallen asleep so deeply at her desk that she tumbled from her chair. (She claims she fell as she leaned to pick up a paper.) That dispatcher sent paramedics to the wrong address, 28 miles from the caller's home. By the time an ambulance reached Dukes, an hour later, she was nearly dead from a blood clot in her lungs. She died soon after reaching the hospital.
At least the operator in the Dukes fiasco was finally fired (she's appealing her termination). Incredibly, most of the 911 personnel involved in the other tragedies are still on the job. One of the two operators found to have botched the Denise Lee case was suspended without pay for 60 hours; the other, for only 36. The woman who gave the "no weapons" message to Pittsburgh cops was given paid leave. The operator who failed to act on Brittany Zimmermann's call was allowed to transfer to another county position.
This lack of accountability doesn't just allow incompetent operators to remain on the job—it gives workers with bad attitudes license to abuse the people they are paid to protect. When a Nashville woman called 911 last spring because her boyfriend was threatening her with a knife, an operator was caught on tape muttering to himself after hanging up, "I don't give a s— what happens to you." The call center apparently took its time forwarding the information, and police arrived three hours later. But at least the victim in that case survived.
Last January, a 911 operator fielded a call reporting that an Orlando woman, Loyta Sloley, had been kidnapped. The operator was able to reach Sloley on her cell phone, but she wouldn't—or couldn't—tell him where she was. He then brusquely lectured her that she was "going to be in some serious trouble" and could be charged for the expense of a manhunt if she didn't cooperate. It took nearly a half hour in all for the operator to dispatch police. By the time the cops arrived, Sloley's ex-boyfriend had shot and killed her and turned the gun on himself.
Maybe the most heartbreaking case of all was the one involving five-year-old Robert Turner . He called 911 in Detroit twice when his mother collapsed. But the dispatchers thought the call was a prank.
Police arrived to find the boy's mother, 46-year-old Sherrill Turner, dead on the floor. A jury convicted the first operator of willful neglect. But she appealed her firing, and it was overruled this past summer. She is already back on the job.
Bad operators are not the only issue. It's amazing how many idiots burden the system with stupid calls, especially now that nearly everyone carries a cell phone. In February, a Boynton Beach, Florida, man called 911 because Burger King did not have lemonade. He didn't get his drink, but he did get a court summons. In 2006, an Oregon woman called to ask the police, who had responded earlier to a noise complaint at her home, to return to the house. Eventually, she admitted why: One officer was "the cutest cop I've seen in a long time." She saw him again soon enough—when he arrested her for the dumb call. A California study found that as many as 45 percent of the emergency calls placed from cell phones in the state were frivolous or prank calls.
You can imagine what that does to the 911 system. It creates delays and overworks operators. And this is happening at a time when states are cutting back in every category and, worse, have begun raiding funds intended to keep 911 centers fully staffed and well equipped. More than $200 million in fees collected from cell phone users and earmarked for upgrades to the 911 system around the country have been diverted by state governments to pay for needs outside emergency response, according to a recent Associated Press investigation. In Wisconsin, $100 million meant for 911 upgrades will be used to plug other holes in the budget. In New York, a new fee instituted to fund 911 services will pay for general budget items and new police uniforms. Emergency budgets are getting "hammered," says Craig Whittington, president of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). "It's ridiculous."
Fortunately, people determined to protect the quality of our 911 service are out there. California recently enacted legislation that will impose penalties running up to $250 per call for needless 911 calls. Groups like NENA have begun publicly rebuking politicians who attempt to divert 911 funding to other purposes.
And some of the victims of 911 failures are turning their tragedies into crusades. Among them is Michael Cantrell, whose toddler accidentally strangled in a soccer net. Cantrell's wife called 911, but the operator could not, or simply would not, tell her how to perform CPR. Together with Nathan Lee, Cantrell has launched a campaign for a minimum training standard like the one required for paramedics nationwide. At the very least, our 911 operators should be willing and able to explain lifesaving procedures, warn police about weapons at a scene, and treat any child's call seriously, unless there's good reason to think it's a prank.
Maybe it's time we declared a 911 emergency. After all, what could be more urgent than making sure our national security safety net is up to the task of saving lives?
A Cry for Help
A tragic misunderstanding may have contributed to the 2006 death of Sherrill Turner, 46, who collapsed in her Detroit home. Her five-year-old son, Robert, called 911 twice. Help never came. Excerpts from the tape:
Robert: My mom has passed out.
Dispatcher: Where's Mr. Turner at?
Robert: Right here.
Dispatcher: Let me speak to him.
Robert: She's not gonna talk.
Dispatcher: Okay, well, I'm going to send the police to your house and find out what's going on with you …
Three hours later, Robert tried again.
Robert: My mom has passed out in her room.
Dispatcher: Where's the grown-up at?
Robert: In her room.
Dispatcher: Let me speak to her before I send the police over there.
Robert: She's not gonna talk.
Dispatcher: Okay, well, you know what? Then she's gonna talk to the police because I'm sending them over there.
Dispatcher: I don't care. You shouldn't be playing on the phone. Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there … and you're going to be in trouble.
Robert's mother, who suffered from an enlarged heart, was dead by the time police arrived. The first operator appealed her termination and is back on the job answering calls.
3 Things You Can Do
DON'T BE THE PROBLEM Call 911 only in true emergencies. Remind children that the punishment for a prank 911 call is serious.
SUPPORT THE CAUSE Find out how you can help Nathan Lee fight for change—and get involved in your own state—by visiting the foundation he started in his wife's memory (www.DeniseAmberLee.org).
SPEAK UP Is your state diverting 911 funds for other purposes? Find the number for your state legislator (votesmart.org) and call to find out. Does your area have training standards for 911 operators? If it doesn't, ask local officials why.
For those who have already read this, please, forgive my repeating the story. I've written several time lines for several different people. I can't remember who knows what. And, so, I'm writing as much as I can down here. So, that it's clear and if anyone wants to dispute any of it, they can. What I'm about to write is part what we experienced and part of what I got out of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs report. No part of my timeline has come from the newspapers because as we learned from them erroneously printing about Denise being at the post office, newspapers can be wrong. I'll try to be as objective as possible and not let anger seep through.
The last time Nathan talked to Denise was just shortly after 11AM. His last words to her were "I love you".
Nate was working for the Florida Power and Light Company as a meter reader. His days started early by leaving the house so early it was still dark out. Denise and the boys would still be sleeping. Noah had just turned two years old. Adam was 6 months old and still being breast fed.
They had been over Mark's and my house the evening before. We had dinner together. After dinner Mark and Nate worked at the dining room table going over Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover" book. They were working on a budget. Nathan had been working evenings as well as for FPL. He worked at Winn Dixie stocking shelves whenever he could. He played trumpet in the evenings for the Venice Symphony when they had concerts. He played every Christmas at our church. During the summer he would umpire Little League games for $50 a game. So, Denise didn't get out much. She stayed home with the boys.
Because she was quiet and shy or maybe just because she loved Nathan so much, she rarely went out without him. That and the two babies were and still are a handful for one person to lug around. She wrote a beautiful passage on her myspace the previous August about going to the mall and trying to purchase sunglasses. You'll have to check out her and Nate's family myspace page. www.myspace.com/leefamilyndn It's speaks of what kind of a mother she was. Her babies always came first.
Here's the story I'm talking about quoted from myspace:
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The joy of having two boys...
Today I thought it might be fun to take the boys to the mall... by myself. It started off really well. Noah and I ate lunch in the food court while Adam slept. I let Noah go on one of those rides that cost 75 cents. Then we went to Old Navy. Noah started getting a little hyper and wouldn't stay with me so I had to hold him and push the stroller at the same time. At the check out both of them started crying. Adam was hungry so we went back out to the car where I fed Adam ('cause he's breastfeeding) and Noah played in the car rolling the window down. Finally we went back in the mall and I let Noah play in the play area so I could get a chance to just sit. Noah was knocked down twice by older boys running around wild. Of course then Adam needed changing and I couldn't take my eyes off of Noah or else he'd run out of the play area. So I put them both on the changing table and changed both their diapers. Fun fun. Then we went to JCPenny. I was trying on sunglasses when Noah tried to run away. So I had to carry Noah while trying on sunglasses and then Nathan called. Both of the boys start crying once again so I put Noah down and picked up Adam. Noah thought it would be funny to try to run away again. So i caught him while holding Adam and put Noah in the stroller. An old man commented that I must have my hands full and said he checked in the bottom basket of the stroller to make sure I didn't have a third one in there. LOL, can you imagin if I had three? So I finally bought my sunglasses and we went home. Something so simple as going to the mall to buy new sunglasses is a thousand times harder when you have two boys under two. But it was still fun. Anytime I get to leave the house is a treat for me.
We also have a few new pics of the boys. I made a new album of Noah and Adam and there's a couple new ones in Adam's album. Check 'em out.
As far as I know she didn't leave the house that day. Nate says she gave Noah a haircut out on the lanai. And when he got home around 3:30PM her clothes were laid out as if she was getting ready to take a shower. She had probably just laid the babies down for naps. When Nate arrived home he found both babies in the same crib. That was odd. Noah's voice was hoarse. All Denise's belongings were still there, cellphone, purse, keys etc... But no Denise. The windows were shut but not latched. Nathan and she had spoken earlier about opening the windows to save on air conditioning bills. January in Florida is one of the best times weather wise in Florida. And living so close to the coast we have some wonderful breezes. So, the windows being closed without the air on was also odd. It was stuffy. Searching frantically for Denise, Nathan called Sue (Denise's mom) first to see if she knew anything. Of course, she didn't and he immediately called 9-1-1 to report Denise missing. Then he called Rick and Rick went into action.
Normally in a missing adult case, they wait to start searching. There's usually a credible explanation as to why the person is not there or the person has left willingly. Rick and Nate both stressed, of course, that this wasn't the case. That there was just no way Denise would leave her kids. So, I believe, in deference to Rick, the North Port Police Department took this more seriously than they probably would normally have. (that's just opinion on my part). Rick works for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office and has for the past 25 years. It had to be terribly frustrating for him to watch the neighboring agency handle the case. But Nate and Denise lived in North Port which is in Sarasota County. So North Port had jurisdiction.
I have already written in an earlier blog how Mark called me and my mad rush to get out to the house. I was at work and my phone was turned off so I was missing calls. Finally Mark called on the store phone. Sue had already picked up the babies. So, I stayed with Nate. You could see Rick's frustration with the NPPD. You could see NPPD 's frustration with Rick. In a word? It was heartbreaking. Nathan was a suspect. A helicopter was overhead. It was getting dark. The thoughts that run through your head. We all knew (our family knew) that there was no way Denise would leave willingly. It was just impossible. Doubts enter but they are quickly brushed aside. Because we knew her. And, she worshiped the ground Nathan walked on and those babies were her life. Nathan I believe, wanted me to leave to help Sue with the boys but I wouldn't. I kept my distance and didn't want to be in the way. But, I so wanted to be there for my baby. I can't describe the pain and agony on Nathan's face. On Rick's face. It's damn difficult watching your son's world fall apart.
Sometime around 4:20PM (I'm estimating times because I don't have the report in front of me. If I'm way off, I'll correct later but I've got this stuff pretty well memorized. I live it over and over again) NPPD requested a K-9 from the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. This is the first time the CCSO 9-1-1 center became aware that Rick Goff's daughter is missing and that the children may have been involved.
At 3:30PM the CCSO had sent it's Teletype operator home early as to save paying overtime. At 4:59PM the first BOLO (Be On the Look Out) is broadcast over the Teletype from North Port mentioning a green Camaro, a description of the suspect and Denise. They give her name, age, haircolor etc... The next door neighbor had seen a green Camaro cruising up and down their road and then parked in Nathan and Denise's driveway.
Now since the Teletype operator went home the dispatchers were to monitor the Teletype every 5 or 10 minutes. Sadly, this BOLO was ignored.
At 5:38PM the CCSO says they issued their own BOLO but oddly, it's not in the CAD system which would have notified the deputies in the field immediately on their computers. The CCSO deputies were all over the place along the Sarasota County/Charlotte County border. But they don't know what they are looking for and they are frustrated they don't have any leads. Again, they never saw this BOLO and testified to that. Also, this BOLO isn't listed on a pass on log the call takers and dispatchers read when coming on duty. It lists what's going on, BOLOs etc... after reading it the on coming squad initials it. I have a copy of it. There is no BOLO listed as being sent out at 5:38PM by CCSO. (Oddly the summary of the I/A report says it was sent out at 5:31PM just one of many discrepancies in the summary). So, what do we have here? Deputies unaware and the dispatchers being unaware that Denise could be in a green Camaro. 2 other BOLOs sent across the Teletype are also ignored from North Port. One at 5:58PM and one at 6:46PM. So, IMO, there's no way that Teletype was being monitored. Now is this the dispatchers fault? I don't know who's fault it is. But obviously the time between 3:30PM and 6:45PM were critical for Denise.
Interestingly a call taker (Millie Stepp) testified she knew about the green Camaro but only because she heard about it over a Sarasota County radio. The supervisor of the 9-1-1 had been busy patching radios through to North Port. This takes close to an hour to do.
Okay, so deputies from the CCSO and Rick out at the house aren't aware of the green Camaro lead (maybe Rick is but he's assuming the Teletype is being monitored and the information is getting out). He's pacing and begging for information.
Then Sabrina Muxlow's 9-1-1 call comes into Sarasota County and she describes what her father told her. This is around 6:00Pm. She says her dad saw her cousin with a girl tied up in the backseat of the car and that the girl screamed "call the cops!" You'd think this guy would call the cops but no...... It's his cousin. And instead he lends him a flashlight, a gascan and a shovel. And 20 minutes later instead of calling the cops, he calls his daughter.
hmmm... deep breath here.
Then something truly miraculous happens. At 6:14PM the Sarasota County 9-1-1 center received a call from Denise herself. She has somehow managed to get the suspects cell phone and call 9-1-1. Sweet brave smart girl. She dupes him into thinking she's talking to him all the while giving information to the call taker. She indeed confirms that she's been taken against her will and that she's in a green Camaro. Her call lasts 7 minutes. Until it's abruptly ended with Michael King looking for his phone.
Now things at the house are starting to happen. Rick and CCSO Sgt Floyd Davis listen to Denise's frantic call. Rick confirms it's indeed her. My heart breaks for him thinking of his having to listen to it. But he heard her fighting and he must have been damn proud of her. Her call ends around 6:22PM and Floyd Davis calls the CCSO dispatch and requests a BOLO to be sent out immediately to look for a green Camaro. Finally, at 6:36PM the CCSO dispatch issues it's first documented BOLO telling their deputies (who have been waiting for this) to look for a green Camaro. All along for the past hour and a half they could've been looking for it but didn't know to.
At 6:30PM Jane Kowalski is watching Denise's hand pound the back window of the dark Camaro and hears her screaming bloody murder. She calls 9-1-1 but because she's crossed the county line she reaches the CCSO 9-1-1 center. It is the only 9-1-1 call in reference to Denise that the CCSO 9-1-1 center receives. The call lasts 9 minutes but no car is ever dispatched to the location Jane has described. Jane waits to hear from the CCSO but never does.
The 9-1-1 supervisor testifies "she didn't really know what was going on".
We at the house, are unaware of this call. Jane not only sees Denise's hand and makes eye contact with Michael King, she gives the CCSO call taker cross streets. On the 9-1-1 tape you hear the call taker is rattled, not in control, asking for direction from a supervisor and completely at sea as to what to do. Instead of entering information in the CAD immediately the way she was trained to do, so the deputies can see the information in their cars on their computers, she writes it down on a piece of paper and yells it across the room.
At the same time, Sgt Davis is on the phone with one of the dispatchers requesting the BOLO I mentioned earlier. The dispatcher tells him a little about the call Millie is in the process of taking. She asks Sgt Davis if the Camaro is blue. Sgt Davis says no, he believes it's green but tells her to call the NPPD to confirm. She never does. I don't know why not. It was not asked in the report. She also fails to mention to Sgt Davis that there's another person in the car in re to the phone call Millie's taking. He testifies "if she had, things would have turned out way different".
Also, at the same time the new shift comes on duty. They all initial a pass on log listing the incidents that are occuring or have occured. Updating them as to what is going on. Sadly, none of the 3 BOLOs North Port issued over the Teletype are listed. Neither is the supposed BOLO the CCSO sent out at 5:38PM. They testify that all they knew going in was that Rick Goff's daughter was taken, that maybe children were involved and that K-9 was requested. It was never asked in the report what the on coming supervisor knew or was told considering the other supervisor "didn't know what was going on" because she says "she was patching radios".
I can't tell you what is going on with Denise at this time. I don't honestly know. I assume she's on her way to her final destination. She had been torn away from her children, taken to the suspect's home, brutally raped and terrorized but still kept enough presence of mind to snatch his phone, call 9-1-1 and in a last ditch effort, take off her precious heart ring Nathan had given to her so that he could later identify it. She saved her kids and handed the prosecution their case on a silver platter.
What a hero.
Another BOLO is issued by North Port over the Teletype sometime around 7. From Denise's 9-1-1 call to Sarasota County they glean information on Michael King, where he lives, etc.... That information along with the tag number is in the this BOLO.
Oddly, the CCSO doesn't respond to this BOLO until 8:15PM when they finally issue their own BOLO. The first mention in the CAD system about looking for a Camaro is at 7:02PM and it says gray. I figure Denise is gone by then.
At 9:15PM or therabouts, a CCSO patrol car spots the Camaro and it's Eddie Pope, with the FHP, that stops it and arrests King. There is no Denise.
I don't know what time the search was called off that night. I had Noah spending the night. And kept him the next day while hundreds of people met to search for Denise. Many from FPL are turned away. Mark described to me walking hand in hand with others and being given little red flags to place where they may spot a clue. The searchers search at the end of Salford Blvd because that's where Michael King suggests they look. They still know nothing of Kowalski's call to the CCSO 9-1-1 center telling them he was last seen with Denise in the car turning east on Toledo Blade. They are at the same time searching a small area on Toledo Blade not far from where they arrested King. The CCSO's silence in this matter is unconscionable in my opinion.
I imagine if they would have known about Kowalski's call maybe the bigger search effort would have been along Toledo Blade and not Salford. I imagine her not having to spend an extra day and a half in that shallow grave, naked and exposed to the Florida elements longer than she had to. Or us suffering that day and half agonizing over what happened to her for longer than we had to. The only thing that could possibly account for this silence is cover up. And if it wasn't cover up, it was gross negligence.
There was negligence in how they handled the BOLO's and the Teletype as well. Maybe the thought of possibly losing their Teletype machine for not monitoring it appropriately and being caught silenced them. I don't know. But they knew.
When they called off the search early Saturday afternoon we assumed they had found her but we still don't know where or how or in what condition. There is still a glimmer of hope she's still alive. Shattered but alive. But, no, we're officially informed it was her around 4PM.
deep breath here
She was shot in the head.
I really can't go on. There were several other tragic errors the CCSO made that night. The piece of paper the call taker had written on had been handed to one of the dispatchers who didn't believe her radio was working. But according to the CAD it is the entire time and she's on it. Millie testifies she yelled the info to Dispatcher A but Dispatcher A and Dispatcher B testify she yelled it to Dispatcher B. The supervisor testifies she didn't know what was going on. It was very shoddy work indeed.
We don't find out about Kowalski's call until the day of the viewing. That would be the following Tuesday. We're numb already and for me it didn't sink in right away. The only reason we ever found out about her call was because she persisted in calling the North Port Police wanting to help. They didn't know who she was. Finally they figured it out on Saturday the day Denise was found and had to "request" information from the CCSO. The CCSO wasn't going to give it to them.
Jane Kowalski's interview with the North Port Police Department. They are still not sure who she is.
We find out more from the I/A report but it takes reading it 3 times to figure it out. It's that convoluted and there are so many errors in the summary.
Then we find out that the woman leading the investigation was actually working as Director of Communications. She had been promoted to Internal Affairs just before but because Sherman Robinson was on vacation, she filled in for him.
We also find out that the CCSO treated Jane Kowalski with derision and disdain. They blamed her for giving them erroneous information. She said blue Camaro and said it was a child. They never even followed her up with a phone call.
Sweet sweet Denise. I'm trying my hardest baby to get the bigger, more important story out. I'm sure people are sick of reading about it, but I don't know what else to do. Somehow we must make people aware of what's going on at the CCSO. I just don't know how else to do it.
I really need to write next about all the good things that followed. All the people who came out in droves for your funeral. All the fundraisers. All the hugs and prayers. The on-line community (a piano forum) that raised $16K for the boys education. How everyone's hearts broke and are still breaking everytime your story is played on DateLine or PrimeTime. Of how our families have bonded and we're doing out bests for Nate, Noah and Adam. There have been thousands more angels than villains in this piece. You have your own tree now. And your own classroom! You may get a playground. So many people now look at you as a hero. I'll always remember you put those babies first. In the Catholic church I believe you would be considered a martyr and a saint. Your last thought of Nate and his ring. How your heart must have broke.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
That Florida has no mandatory training standard for their 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers?
Florida requires barbers, nail technicians and landscapers to be trained and certified.
DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?
9-1-1 telecommunicators are our First Line of Defense in Public Safety and Homeland Security. They cannot be our weakest link!!!
Call, write or email your Florida State Representative and demand that all Florida 9-1-1 telecommunicators be trained and certified to a uniform standard.
Go to www.leg.state.fl.us to find your representatives.
For more information about our foundation visit www.DeniseAmberLee.org
Our foundation is supported by APCO International (Association of Public Safety Communications Officials), NENA (National Emergency Number Association), NAED (National Academies of Emergency Dispatch) and 911CARES.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
"Boy it sounds like he has it so ruff taking vacations every week with his girl friend and parents. And if I have my information right he has had the girl friend around since a yeat ago June. And if it's not a vacation then why does so many people go and who is footing the bill. "
I've recieved many comments from the above individual. I know it's the same individual because he/she seems to use the term "rough" quite often and can't seem to spell it. I don't know who this individual is but I do know that he/she is a coward. They are a coward for not posting under their real name. I also know this person is mean, angry, spiteful, hurtful and ignorant. Ignorant of the facts and ignorant as to human feeling and empathy.
Anyone who would deny my son any sense of happiness and comfort after what he's been through is heartless and they did not know Denise very well, if at all. I doubt they even met Denise. Because if they had met her and gotten to know her, they would know that Denise is the person who drives Nathan forward. Denise would not want him cowering in a corner. He did that and it wasn't very healthy for him. Denise would want him to fight for happiness and fight for change. She drives him. And if the above coward believes that "fighting" for happiness is easy and that is what we do on a daily basis or if the above coward thinks fighting for changes is easy, they are wrong.
I'm very proud of Nathan and my family.
The coward who wrote this is also very ignorant as to our cause. I do not understand how anyone could consider what we're doing as wrong. That is unless they possibly work for or run the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. Indeed, it must be someone very sour. Other than that, I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams who would write this stuff. How can anyone be so odious? So very very cruel.
I invite this coward to call me or email me directly anytime if he or she has questions as to what our foundation is doing.
Dear coward, it is you who are cowering in the corner. Not very rewarding is it?
added edit: FWIW, Nathan did not have a girlfriend as of June last year. I remember June last year and Nathan was struggling to work, living alone with the two boys. I remember going over to pick up the boys every morning and when I did? I would find 60-70 Kleenex's on the floor and videos and pictures of Denise scattered everywhere. Dear coward, you have no clue as to what my son has endured and suffered. So, get off my back. You are a loathsome and a very sad individual. God grant you peace. You need it.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Mark and Nathan are in Michigan. Amber and Noah went with them. They are attending another 9-1-1 conference for APCO. Mark and Nate have just returned from the Missouri APCO and are off again in Michigan. It was Noah's first plane ride. I wish I was with them but I stayed home with Adam. Adam is such a cutie. It's been wonderful but I'm missing Mark and Nathan.
Next week Mark, Nathan and I will be going to Colorado for another conference in Longmont.
The following week Mark and Nathan go to Springfield, Illinois. Yes, another conference.
And then the last week of October to Wisconsin.
Nathan is speaking at all of them. The outpouring of support has been indescribable. So many 9-1-1 telecommunicators being touched by this story. I can't describe the letters and emails we receive.
Also this month we have a float in the Sun Fiesta Parade held in Venice, Florida just north of us. We'll also have a booth. And another booth at the Placida Seafood Festival.
Many still ask what our purpose is. Well, Nathan tells Denise's story. Then he goes into problems in the 9-1-1 industry that need addressing. That call takers and dispatchers, in many places, are underpaid, underappreciated and the first to be thrown under the bus when tragedies and/or cut backs occur. 9-1-1 telecommunicators are our "true" first responders and deserve respect where in many places there is none. Without them the firefighters would never get to the fire, the EMTs would never get to the medical emergency and the police cannot prevent certain crimes in progress. He explains why he thinks they needs standards and certification. How they DESERVE that. It's not fair that some counties and townships do not have the same technologies and training standards others do. Also not everyone is capable of doing the 9-1-1 telecommunicators job. Some people are just not cut out for the job! It takes a special person to be a 9-1-1 telecommunicator. A person who has compassion, can think outside the box, make quicker than quick decision, multi-task, and work with dilegence. To get these people and "retain" them they need to be recognized. That there should be quality assurance always. A CELL PHONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO BE LOCATED BY 9-1-1. Sadly, it takes a tragedy such as Denise's to bring this to light to the general public. The general public needs to be educated as to the proper use of 9-1-1. They need to know that consumer cell phone technology has advanced at such a rapid rate that the 9-1-1 centers cannot keep up unless they receive more funding. Oh, boy. I really ran away with that but as you know I could talk about 9-1-1 24/7.
All good things.
Then at the very end of the month is the Spencer Hearing. Ugh! Apparently Spencer Hearings are unique to Florida. The jury found King guilty and "recommended" to the judge he receive death. Now the prosecutors and the defense go before the judge without the jury and go over the mitigating and aggravating factors all over again. We all get to read our impact statements and we have to go through it all again. I could just scream.
So.... October is busy. It's good. Denise will not die in vain. Michael King cannot hurt anyone else. Noah took his first plane ride. Adam can count to ten and recite his ABCs. Adam refuses to let me read to him and insists reading to me even though he's just turned two. And life goes on. I think and pray Denise would be proud.
It's been a while since I've blogged. I'm not sorry for that. My thoughts have been going every which way and much of them would not make much sense to most people. We wrote a letter to the local editors with a thank you but I need to write more. I wrote that letter out of a sense of duty laced with heartfelt gratitude but much was left unsaid.
You would think things would get easier now that the trial is over. Having the trial over is a major relief. We were very blessed and still are in so many ways.
- The judge was so thorough. He crossed every t and dotted every i. He was determined that there should be no mistrial.
- The prosecuting team was in a word awesome. I could listen to Lon Arend speak all day. His professionalism was exceptional. He never lost his cool and slowly and methodically presented the state's case against Michael King. His sensitivity was incredible. He had to present the horrific facts all the while knowing our family was sitting there and reliving the pain.
- The defense team did their utmost and everything they could to save Michael King. And even though they irritated the hell out of me and listening to them was like nails running down a chalkboard, I was grateful they did all they could. Why? Because there will be less likelihood that this case gets overturned. It was that solid.
- The jury, like the judge did all they could to cross every t and dot every i. They sat there in stoic silence listening and paying the closest attention to every that was said. They listened to Denise's tragedy with such strength. I commend them and thank them for performing their civic duty with such dignity.
- Police Chief Lewis who sat their every day with the lead detective. Job well done. They too were as sensitive as possible. I was so moved.
- And, of course, our family and friends. Oh crap. I'm tearring up thinking about them. My sister, Chris, who came in from Indiana... our friend, Kevin Willett from the 9-1-1 industry from California... Nancy and Kathy who were there everyday... Connie and Sherry from different chapters of Parents of Murdered Children. Dave Dignam who drove Nate back and forth everyday and kept Nate's nerves calm. Nathan could not ask for a better mentor and friend. Sean, Nate's best friend who came all the way from Minnesota. Mark's brother, Steve, who kept the home fires burning for us when we got home. Joan and Jackie who I know I would have been friends with even if this tragedy never happened. Tammy and Jeanine who are always there for us.
- The King family, especially the brother who is raising King's son. I know this sounds odd but they treated our family with dignity and respect. I'm so saddened and heartbroken for them. They kept their distance and tried their best not to make us uncomfortable.
- The press also treated our family with sensitivity, respect and dignity. The North Port Sun and the Sarasota Herald Tribune reporters were especially sensitive, yet, were able to retain their objectivity.
- The hundreds of people we've never met who wrote letters and sent cards from not just across the country but from around the world. I could read and feel their pain. They were truly that touched by Denise's story. Total strangers....... It's humbling.
- And, last but not least, Denise. Denise. Denise. Denise. The prosecution's best witness. Her bravery and courage. Her beauty and goodness shining through that horrific 9-1-1 call. Her presence everywhere. Oh, sweetie, you humbled that entire room all except for that one creep who showed no remorse. But, you did it, baby. He'll never hurt anyone else ever again.
I'm sure there's many people I'm forgetting. I did not mention Rick and Sue's friends and family. I'll leave that for them but I thank them, too.
As I said, it's all very humbling to be touched by so many people.