NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An emergency dispatcher went on break in June without seeing that a call had come in requesting aid for a 4-year-old girl who was struck by a sport utility vehicle, according to a report by the city’s Department of Investigation.
The report, released Thursday, concludes that human error was to blame for the delayed response to the crash that killed Ariel Russo and seriously injured her grandmother on the Upper West Side.
After learning of the investigation’s findings, Sofia Russo, Ariel’s mother, called for the Manhattan district attorney’s office to consider criminal charges against the dispatcher, Edna Pringle.
“I’m just like shocked right now,” Sofia Russo told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.
“My daughter was depending on you,” she continued, directing her comments to Pringle. “Where were you? Why didn’t you see it? Why didn’t you pick it up?”
Ariel Russo died after an SUV jumped a curb on Amsterdam Avenue while the little girl was walking to school with her grandmother, Katia Gutierez.
Authorities say the driver of the SUV, Franklin Reyes, had only a learner’s permit and was being chased by police just prior to the crash. He has been charged with manslaughter and unlawful fleeing in a motor vehicle.
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Records showed a four-minute delay in dispatching first responders to the scene. It was nearly eight minutes after the crash by the time firefighters arrived.
At the time of the crash, the FDNY had been on the defensive about its new 911 system. It went online just before the incident, and there had been a number of outages.
“We undertook this investigation because of the public safety implications,” DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said in a statement. “The evidence showed no technical issues with the system on June 4. City responses to Ariel ranged from approximately two through eight minutes, not withstanding the mishandling at EMD of the calls related to Ariel. Several outages on other dates, which played no role on June 4, showed the need for added staffing, training and computer hardware.”
According to the report, police were on scene moments after the crash, arresting Reyes and immediately calling for ambulances.
“I need you to rush a bus (ambulance), 97th and Amsterdam! We have two pedestrians struck,” one radio transmission said, according to the report.
“Get me a bus. There is a little girl unconscious!” said another.
About two minutes after the crash, Gerard Lambert, an off-duty firefighter who was on his way to work, walked upon the scene and stopped. He then began treating Russo with the help of officers and another Good Samaritan.
According to the report, Lambert told officers to “put a rush” on the ambulance because of the gravity of Russo’s condition.
“It was fortuitous he was going to work,” Gill Hearn said. “What is new information here is that there were already responders on the scene, not withstanding the mishap at the emergency dispatch center.”
The emergency call, which had been transferred from the NYPD dispatch center, wasn’t received by the EMSCAD system until four minutes after the crash, the report said.
According to the report, Pringle, the dispatcher, went on a break after the Russo call came in, claiming the job was not in the system and that she didn’t see it.
“It would have, could have, should have been seen by the operator,” Gill Hearn told reporters, including CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
The dispatcher who took over for Pringle when she went on break saw the call when she logged into the system and sent first responders to the scene, the report said.
Pringle later accepted a command discipline after her supervisor determined that the Russo job was “on the Relay screen for four minutes without being processed,” the report said.
The DOI noted that Pringle used her cellphone five times before the Russo call came in even though cellphone use is not allowed during a dispatch shift.
“We found it inexplicable,” Gill Hearn said. “The system was working; her terminal was working. Her testimony that it was not there is belied by other evidence.”
Russo’s family has filed a $20 million lawsuit over the delayed response.
Earlier this month, the City Council passed an emergency-response bill in honor of Russo. The legislation requires the FDNY to submit a monthly report detailing response times for emergency calls — from when a 911 call is received to when a first responder arrives at the scene.
“That will help the city determine how to best deploy limited resources and how we can facilitate swifter emergency responses,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.
The City Council also voted to rename West 97th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway “Ariel Russo Way.”
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