MONTPELIER - A 911 dispatcher trying to find a Vermont woman being beaten to death was slowed by technical problems and a bureaucratic roadblock at
The dispatcher was placed on hold for two minutes and then got a busy signal when trying to fax a form that would allow Verizon Wireless to release the billing address of the victim's cellphone, said Bill Cook, director of Public Safety for Washington County.
It was 30 minutes between the time a screaming Francine Morgan made a 911 call from her home in Wells just before 4 a.m. Aug. 2 that was answered across the state line in New York, and Vermont State Police in Rutland could be sent to her home, where she was found dead.
"This was, in 24 years of being in this business, the worst call I've ever had to review," said Cook.
It is unclear whether without the delay, troopers could have saved Morgan's life. Her 14-year-old son, Christian Taylor, has pleaded not guilty to a second degree murder charge in the death of his mother.
During the call, operators heard Morgan screaming and noises consistent with an object striking another object. After a time Morgan's voice stopped.
The issue was further complicated because the Washington County 911 system did not have computerized maps of Vermont that would have displayed the location of Morgan's call. Instead, the computer displayed the location of the cell tower that picked up the call, officials said.
The tower was located in Granville, N.Y., several miles from Morgan's home in Wells.
Cook said the Verizon Wireless official who answered the phone in New Jersey would not release the billing address without a faxed verification form. The form was then faxed to Washington County and when officials tried to send it back they were further delayed by a busy signal.
Verizon Wireless spokesman John O'Malley said the operators at the company's center needed to verify that the request for billing information was legitimate. "When our analyst offered to fax the form, (the Washington County operator) didn't say this is really time critical. Had he done that our analyst would have done a callback verification," O'Malley said.
After Morgan's first call was received, a second Washington County operator called back the number, and listened to Morgan's message, which only gave her first name. The center sent Granville police to knock on doors looking for someone named Francine.
It is routine for 911 operators to receive calls from outside their jurisdiction. When that happens operators can pass the call to the appropriate location, said David Serra, the executive director of Vermont Enhanced 911 Board.
What was unusual in the Wells case was Morgan couldn't communicate.
Since Morgan's call, Cook said his office was working with Serra's office to load computerized maps of Vermont into the system.
"We don't typically share that data, but we are going to start doing that," Cook said. "We have been working with Vermont officials. We are going to do some test calls next."