Man's Death Prompts Reforms to Provo's 911 System

Man's Death Prompts Reforms to Provo's 911 System

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- City officials are planning equipment upgrades and better training after 911 dispatchers sent an ambulance to the wrong address, a mistake that wasn't discovered until the man's body was found days later.

Compounding the problem was the man's use of a cell phone, which didn't provide the caller's address on the dispatcher's computer screen like landline telephones do.

"Today, more than half of all calls received at our center are from cellular phones," Capt. David Bolda, a Provo police 911 director, said Monday of the growing problem for officials.

Provo officials associated the unattended death of Scott M. Aston, 30, with his Oct. 1 cell phone call for help to 911.

His address did not appear on the dispatcher's screen from the cell phone, and despite repeating the address, the street number "915" was mistaken for "950."

Aston told the dispatcher that he had been ill for two weeks, couldn't breathe and "felt that he was dying," said city spokeswoman Raylene Ireland.

"Approximately three and a half minutes into the call ... the line goes dead," Ireland said. Despite paramedics' efforts to locate Aston, including checking adjacent addresses, the man could not be found.

The dispatcher who took the call played back the tape to confirm the address and again misheard it as "950" before a battalion chief called off the search.

The man's body was found three days later after a relative called authorities. Results of the subsequent investigation prompted by the death were released Monday.

A call taker and a dispatcher were disciplined, Ireland said.

Ireland said neither a battalion chief nor a dispatch supervisor reviewed the audiotapes immediately after failure to locate the man because the dispatcher who took the original call was certain he had received the correct street address.

Bolda said a full review was made of the dispatch center's call-taking policies, protocols for tracing cellular phone calls were revised and updated, and quick reference question cards are now used by all dispatchers.

The city also now reviews emergency center calls after the fact to evaluate the effectiveness of responses. The call center receives about 40,000 emergency calls per year besides other nonemergency inquiries.

Provo city and state officials are pursuing software and hardware that would help dispatchers locate those calling 911 from cell phones.

"Tragic and unfortunate situations like this one clearly demonstrate the need for dispatch centers to be able to receive location information from cellular phones similar to that received from landline telephones," Bolda said.

"Too many people just assume if you dial 911 that they'll know where you are," Bolda said. "In Utah, that's just not the case."

Though an official autopsy was performed Oct. 6, a medical examiner could not find any injury to Aston or establish a cause of death.

Ireland said Provo has been in talks with the deceased man's family, and there is neither any pending litigation or settlement.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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