The city Department of Investigation reported last week that human error, not technical problems with the city’s 911 system, caused a nearly four-minute delay in sending an ambulance to 4-year-old Ariel Russo, originally of Middle Village, who was hit and killed by an unlicensed teen driver on the Upper West Side last June.
Following the little girl’s death, there were a number of outcries that the delayed arrival of the ambulance occurred because of problems with the city’s embattled 911 program. Mayor Bloomberg’s office requested the report of Ariel’s death, and DOI investigators conducted hundreds of hours of interviews of personnel at the city’s Emergency Medical Dispatch Center in Brooklyn who were involved in handling the Russo call, as well as with systems and information technology experts. The investigators examined data and reports from the city’s emergency responders and the EMD and observed the operations and set-up of the EMD, among other investigative steps.
“We undertook this investigation because of the public safety implications,” DOI Commissioner Rose Gil Hearn said in a prepared statement last week. “This evidence showed no technical issues with the system on June 4; city responses to Ariel ranged from approximately two through eight minutes, notwithstanding the mishandling at EMD of the calls related to Ariel.”
The DOI also looked into four other incidents, unrelated to Russo, during which there were reported outages in the 911 system. The department said to address the issues with the 911 system, there needs to be “added staffing, training and computer hardware.”
According to the report, the fault for the delay during Russo’s accident stemmed from the dispatcher, though the union has said that they continue to stand by the individual’s claim that the call about the 4-year-old did not appear on the dispatch screen. But the DOI investigation found that the dispatcher used her cell phone five times, which is not permitted while working, not long before the call about Ariel appeared on her screen around 8:15 a.m. The dispatcher then left her desk at about 8:19 a.m. without acknowledging Russo’s accident, the report stated.
It was not until the dispatcher’s replacement saw the call related to the young girl and sent it to a radio dispatcher that an ambulance was deployed.
Ariel Russo and her grandmother, who was seriously injured, were hit by Franklin Reyes, 18, the NYPD said. Reyes had been pulled over on West 89th Street for a moving violation; he stopped but then fled when officers approached his vehicle, according to police. He then lost control of the SUV while attempting to make a left turn onto 97th Street at Amsterdam Avenue and ran into the 4-year-old and her grandmother, the NYPD said.
Reyes had a learner’s permit but was not licensed to operate the vehicle on his own, according to the NYPD. He is scheduled to go to trial on charges of manslaughter. Reyes has pleaded not guilty.
By Anna Gustafson