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Dispatch investigated for minivan tragedy response

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- An internal investigation has been opened to look into the procedures and training protocol of the Saint Joseph County Dispatch Center.

ABC57 is still following the New Years Eve tragedy that killed four-year-old James and his sister, two-year-old Natalie Kleven and left mother, Brook, and her 3-month-old son in critical condition.

Now the question is did the 9-1-1 confusion cost precious minutes--and possibly lives.

Looking into the scanner recordings from that afternoon, you can hear that the first call about a black Toyota minivan sinking into a retention pond on East University Drive in Mishawaka, came into the Saint Joseph County Dispatch Center at 2:46 p.m.

Sound from the Saint Joseph County Police and Fire scanner, "Fir and University Drive at the City Center see if a vehicle has gone into the pond Fir and East University Drive at the City Center.”

The Clay Fire Department was dispatched first, even though the crash was in Mishawaka on East University Drive--and the original address was incorrect--with crews being sent to Fir road---then to Costco instead of the retention pond down the street at University Drive Court.

“We are trying to pin point a location. I’ve got Clay in route as it came up earlier it’s gonna be I believe a retention pond by Temper Grill. University Drive Court and University Drive.”

“Clay units responding you can disregard it’s going to be a Mishawaka call. Clay units you can disregard the Fir and University it will be a Mishawaka call.”

The first firefighters did arrive on scene in about 2 minutes

And firefighters were in the water about 7 minutes after the original call.

But there was still confusion about who was supposed to be there.

“51-54 we are already in route and can continue if you want.”

“Were at Fir and 23 I don’t know if were closer than that medic. If so we can continue unless they want us to disregard.”

“…dispatch battalion 4 we will just keep both the units coming for now.”

And 10 minutes into the drama---, crew's still weren't sure where to go.

“Chief what’s the exact location of where you guys are at?”

“Just shoot for Ruth’s Chris you will be fine. We’re right in front of Ruth’s Chris.”

It was unclear who was supposed to be blocking off East University Drive --- and with one dive team in the water, it took 15 minutes for a second boat to come help only rescue team on site.


"Go rescue”

"We currently have a diver in the water. (muffled) (something away from us?” “we have one in the water now. We have one in a cold water suit on top of the car. However it is completely submerged.”

“Clear. We’re pulling up on scene. We will be getting ready to go in.”

And it was not until 22 minutes after the original call at 3:08 pm that 9 of the South Bend Fire Departments engines, rescue and dive teams were called out to help.

"Just confirming Mishawaka is requesting our boat as well as myself?”


“South Bend Rescue 1. 625 East University Drive. Sinking vehicle. Entrapment.

In the end---two children trapped in the submerged vehicle died---their mother and younger brother remain in critical condition.

Right now St. Joseph County is doing an investigation to determine if the confusion and delays affected the outcome--and one dispatcher who took the first call---is off the job.

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SteveWestlake 90 days ago
First! This is NOT a condemnation of the emergency dispatch. Without them, the whole of the system is ineffective at best! Hired on Elkhart Fire 50 years ago, at 7PM most workdays, the first year, myself and 1 other rookie ran the calls and dispatches of all ambulance and fire calls in Elkhart! Point being! There were no computer aided dispatching centers. Emergency dispatch was done by people who had studied street maps for 100 of hours. A young fireman did all the tasks more seasoned fireman did plus doing emergency dispatch. If I was seen without a City map and not studying it, I had a severe chewing out coming. Today most emergency responders would be in the dark if their mobile data terminals did not work. Most dispatchers have no idea where streets, roads, addresses are located. Tell me if I am wrong on this dispatch!!! The original dispatch went to Clay Fire, a rural department. Most addresses in the county have 5 digit addresses. City addresses don't exceed 4 digits. Therefore you have a delay in response. Emergency dispatch should know this and the territories under their purview! To add. It is quite clear the vehicle was traveling too fast for conditions. There was a delay in response. Mishawaka fire is just down the road. Point being! If you think glitches in systems are a problem, they are! People dispatching SHOULD know their territories they are responsible for. People need to drive to road conditions. NOT speed limits! Never be under the assumption 911 can save everyone. Even under the best conditions I am surprised anyone survived the incident. The chances of surviving an actual heart emergency where breathing has ceased, is very very low! By the time a heart call is taken , dispatched and responded to, a patient is far past that 4-6 minute threshold. Just an example! I feel so badly for everyone involved. Certainly the family has our prayers. But lets not forget the first responders and dispatchers. These are the things that haunt minds forever. I can still see the face of my first drowning victim. The little guy looked exactly like my son. That was 45 years ago.
Silverlining 91 days ago
I pray that they can put up a barrier to prevent this tragedy from occurring again. I am confused and frustrated that a retention pond was placed in that location on University Park drive. I understand that it is needed, but an engineer/designer never thought of protecting lives by creating a retention pond that vehicles cannot be submerged in?

Secondly, why was there confusion from dispatch? Was it reported incorrectly from the caller or was it miscommunication from dispatch? It appears a delay in response had young children pay the ultimate price.

Thoughts and prayers to this family and those impacted by such a tragedy.
MX Silverlining 91 days ago
This is the problem. Accountability is completely lost. There is barely a curve there. Two things. One, the driver was traveling way way too fast for their abilities given the conditions. Two, why did the driver not attempt to exit? But yeah, let’s blame the city for the roads, the engineer for not putting up a huge barrier, the dispatcher because it took two whole minutes for the first response, and everyone else except the person that bombed over a curb and then just sat there.
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