CHP 911 response ‘grossly negligent’

The California Highway Patrol 911 dispatch center serving the Bay Area was “grossly negligent” in the handling of a January 2003 roadside emergency that resulted in one death, a San Francisco jury recently ruled.

The verdict came in response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the CHP by the widow and daughter of RichardHousley, who died after stopping his truck and trailer on the Bay Bridge.

Housley was crushed between the truck and the trailer when another driver, whom police said was traveling at about 60 miles per hour, rammed the rig.

That driver, Diego Perez, was subsequently deported, according to Miles Cooper, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Veen Firm, which represented the Housleys in the lawsuit against the CHP, but not in the family’s lawsuit against Perez.

Although the jury determined that the CHP’s actions did not cause Richard Housley’s death, it did accept the arguments by the Hous-leys’ lawyers that the dispatchers departed from standard procedures when responding to the calls that came in about the accident.

Through a statement sent out by her lawyers, Housley’s widow, Mary Housley of Brisbane, said she felt it was important for the public to know about this “weak link in the chain of emergency care.”

The dispatcher who initially responded to Mary Housley’s cell phone call from the bridge mistakenly called Oakland emergency responders. Then, after being told that San Francisco had jurisdiction, the dispatcher entered into the computer that an ambulance was on its way but didn’t make another call, according to Cooper.

“Other dispatchers, seeing that, did not do any dispatching of their own,” he said.

An ambulance was eventually dispatched — more than 10 minutes later — at the request of CHP officers who arrived at the scene and called to follow up with the paramedics to inquire about the delay, according to Cooper.

CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said she couldn’t talk about the verdict, in case the Housleys decided to file an appeal to the wrongful death decision.

In the Bay Area, all road calls to 911 are routed to the CHP’s Golden Gate Communications Center, located in Vallejo. The night of the accident, the dispatch center alsoreceived other calls from motorists, advising the CHP of the incident.

For years, the Golden Gate Communications Center has struggled with understaffing, and is short by about 20 to 30 call takers, according to a CHP manager at that office. Cooper, however, said the response to the Housley accident was not due to a stressed system.

“We have the 911 tapes, on this particular night. Although there are calls coming in, you can hear it’s not bustling,” he said.

beslinger@examiner.com


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