Sunday, May 16, 2010

yes, I was right

the media has been kind. This was printed in today's Sun. Also read an article by Nathan's former little league coach Eric Ernst printed in the Herald Tribune this past week:


Lee's legacy now assured in E-911 bill

OUR POSITION: A deep bow to the people from our communities who worked to pass an E-911 bill that will make everyone safer in the future.

It took two sessions for the Florida Legislature to muster enough political will to pass a no-brainer of a bill improving the state's emergency 911 call operations, but that sorry fact was low on the list of concerns this week at a press conference acknowledging those whose hard work finally resulted in the bill's passage.

The bill came about primarily through the efforts of the family of Denise Amber Lee, whose 2008 murder in North Port after a botched 911 call provided the strongest possible example of the need for improvements in state emergency response standards. As noted in a report conducted by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, emergency call centers in the state may handle as many as 15 million 911 calls in a year, but a mistake in one or two highlighted the enormous, tragic consequences that come when the system fails.

The Lee case is exactly why the public needed to be assured that call centers were being operating with a high level of professionalism. Clearly, there was room for improvement.
Denise Lee's husband, Nathan Lee, took the lead role in the drive for higher standards in Florida, and has continued his outreach throughout the nation. Other family members have joined in. Many in the community have worked for reform through the Denise Amber Lee Foundation.
The result here has been a bill that will require all 911 call-takers and dispatchers in Florida to take a set level of training and pass a certification test in order to do their jobs. It also calls for training updates and renewal every two years. The full law will not take effect until 2012, giving all police agencies time to come into compliance.

As Nathan Lee said during during a press conference at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, the bill is far from perfect, but it is an important step. It does focus attention and begin to plug a critical hole in the public safety system. For the future, Nathan Lee and the Lee Foundation will aim at moving official oversight of dispatch training into the Department of Law Enforcement. They also will work at developing one statewide curriculum for training.
Both are extremely worthy goals.

For now, however, congratulations are extended to the Lee family and the Lee Foundation. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation also helped drive the process. And our local legislators deserve a nod for their efforts to push the bill through, despite opposition from legislators who thought additional costs outweighed public safety considerations.

Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, took up the bill last year. But Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, managed to complete the job this session. A no-brainer from our perspective, but, amazingly, it took some heavy lifting, as well as a bit of compromise, to get it done.

A long time coming, yes. And a proper legacy for Denise Amber Lee. The improved training that will come as a result of this law just may help ensure another family and other communities will not see a repeat of this type of tragedy in the future.

Widower took his pain and made a difference

By Eric Ernst

Published: Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. Last Modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 9:18 p.m.

In most ways, Nathan Lee is an ordinary person. He's a salesman at Best Buy in Sarasota. He represents no special interest group. But this year he accomplished something unusual; he got a bill passed through the state Legislature.

The bill, awaiting the governor's signature, will elevate the first link of emergency response by requiring 911 operators at all of the state's 258 emergency call centers to undergo standardized training to earn certification.

It comes too late to help the woman who served as its catalyst. Lee's wife, Denise, was kidnapped, raped and killed in January 2008 in North Port. She might have been saved if a witness' call to 911 had been handled properly.

As Lee and others analyzed what went wrong, they realized the 911 system had deep flaws, starting with operator training.

Those shortcomings became Lee's cause. He set out to save others by pushing for mandatory, uniform 911 training statewide.

The heroic way he chose to deal with the pain speaks to his character and should be a point of pride for the two young boys he is raising on his own, state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said Wednesday. Detert joined the cause, with state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, to push companion bills through the Legislature.

It took three legislative sessions and a lot of behind-the-scenes backing.

Englewood businessman David Dignam advised Lee, helped him set up the Denise Amber Lee Foundation and used his Republican Party contacts to open doors.

Lee and his parents, Mark and Peggy, started traveling to Tallahassee to testify or visit with lawmakers.

The Herald-Tribune published a series that exposed breakdowns in 911 responses statewide. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice commissioned a $43,000 study of 911 responses that found a system fundamentally failing the public in key respects.
The articles and study became exhibits in legislative committee testimony.

People helped in other, unexpected ways, too. Bill Stiver, who runs an automotive shop in Englewood and is a pilot, flew local contingents to Tallahassee.

North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo and his peers sent 411 letters to other cities, encouraging them to support 911 reform.

Garofalo also pushed legislators. One day he left home at 3 a.m. to attend a 10-minute meeting in the state capital, then returned home for a meeting. "That's a day I drank a lot of coffee," he says.

Supporters organized phone banks to call lawmakers and anyone who could influence the process to keep the legislation on track.

Lee had a compelling story to illustrate a legitimate public safety shortcoming. The story also resonates nationally. Lee has traveled coast to coast -- sometimes at his own expense -- addressing many of the same problems exhibited in Florida.

On Wednesday, as the bill's backers gathered at a news conference in Venice, it was evident Lee has not found closure.

Maybe he never will. There are still others to save.

Eric Ernst's column regularly runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at or (941) 486-3073.