I-TEAM: Aiken County 911 mistake costs critical minutes during fatal fire

Aiken County 911 mistake costs critical minutes during fatal fire
Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 5:04 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Every minute matters when saving a life.

Jayshaun Edwards’ mother, Latrell Wingard, could not get him out of her burning home on Windsor Road in Aiken County. She called 911 for help.

By the time firefighters arrived, 24 minutes later, it was too late for them to save him.

From wrong addresses to wrong medical codes, the I-Team found mistakes inside Aiken County’s 911 center is risking lives.

“There is a fire at 2085 Windsor Road,” Wingard said to the dispatcher during April 21 call. “My baby! My baby is in the house, please!”

"What's the address?" the dispatcher responds.

"2085 Windsor Road," Wingard said. "My baby in there!"

The painful memories of that night wash over Wingard as she listens to the 911 call for the first time.

"He's three! Three! Three! Oh Lord, Jesus, come on!" Wingard said.

As agonizing as it is to hear, she wants to stop blaming herself.

"I was trying to get them outside," Wingard said.

Latrell woke up in the middle of the night to a fire inside her mobile home.

“I had to put them down because the door was so hot so hot,” Wingard said.

She was able to get 4-year-old James Edwards out the door, but Jayshaun was different.

“He must have gone back towards the room,” Wingard said.

Jayshaun wasn’t there when Wingard turned around.

“I said where you at? Come on, baby. Come on,” Wingard said.

Jayshaun had disappeared into the smoke.

“I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t hear him,” Wingard said. “I kept calling, ‘Come on, baby,’ and I couldn’t come to the door because it was too hot.”

It's an unbearable loss worsened by unbearable guilt.

“I know I had to put them down, but I have been tearing myself up because I had to put them down,” Wingard said.

Overcome by grief, everything that happened next is a blur.

Nine minutes after Wingard called 911, her daughter called 911 back.

“My mama house burnt down,” the daughter said. “He was in the house. Both my brothers, my mama were in the house. My house burnt down.”

Another nine minutes go by, and still no fire truck.

"The emergency here, what road is this? " – a neighbor said when she called 911.

“21 Windsor Road, but its 21 -- it’s a house fire,” a neighbor said to dispatch after calling 911.

Twenty minutes go by, and still no fire truck.

"I mean there is smoke blowing out." – another person described to dispatch over the phone.

“Not in the rooms, but as soon as you stick your head in there you can’t really do anything.”

The I-Team found it took 24 minutes from the time of the first call for help to get there. That help came from the Salley Fire Department -- just 5.3 miles away from her home.

What happened? Wingard gave the address of 2085 Windsor Road. What did dispatch tell firefighters?

“District 25, New Ellenton Fire Department, and all mutual aid -- 2085 Williston Road for a structure fire,” dispatch said.

Williston Road is nowhere near Salley. There’s not even a 2085 on Williston Road.

“Be advised 2085 isn’t showing on our map, but continue in that direction,” a firefighter said to dispatchers.

It takes nine minutes before dispatch realizes the mistake. The mistake cost help getting to Jayshaun by 15 minutes.

“I try to pretend everything alright, and it’s not,” Wingard said.

It was 15 minutes he did not have.

“Can you head to 2085 Windsor Road? 2085 Windsor Road, maybe, for this structure fire? We aren’t able to hear them correctly due to being so upset over the phone,” the dispatcher said.

Aiken County dispatch falls under the leadership of Sheriff Michael Hunt.

“I listened to that tape, and quite frankly, that is hard to understand,” Hunt said.

Was this a mistake possibly that someone who had been a dispatcher for many years would not have made? Maybe a rookie?

“I can’t say that,” Hunt said.

But the I-Team found most of the dispatchers in Aiken County are rookies. The sheriff hired 19 new dispatchers since January 2019. Eight of the 19 have left, averaging only about 3 1/2 months on the job. In all, 24 dispatchers left Aiken County since last year.

This is a huge number when you consider the county is budgeted for 21 dispatchers. Currently, there are 18 dispatchers on staff -- four of which the sheriff’s office tells us started the day of our interview.

"They are trained by senior dispatchers back there," Hunt said.

The I-Team found only one person in Aiken County dispatch is currently certified in e-911, a mandatory certification the county requires of its dispatchers. None hold an emergency medicine dispatcher certification, which is training in medical protocol. We found EMD certification is mandatory in Richmond County.

“The bottom line is dispatchers are human,” Hunt said. “They’re going to make a mistake once in a while.”

With a clearer picture of what really happened that day, Wingard has some small peace. She no longer blames herself.

“I talked to him last night,” Wingard said of her son. “I was able to do that and go to sleep.”

High turnover rates for dispatchers is a national problem fueled by burnout, low pay, and long hours.

Our investigation continues Friday.

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