NTSB: Better 911 contacts might have prevented deadly bike crash

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP/FOX 17) — The National Transportation Safety Board says better communication between police agencies might have prevented the deaths of five bicyclists last year in southwestern Michigan.

A pickup truck plowed into a pack of cyclists on a rural road near Kalamazoo last June. The driver, Charles Pickett Jr., is charged with second-degree murder and driving while under the influence of drugs.

>> MORE: Read full report from the National Transportation Safety Board here.

The NTSB says 22 minutes passed between the first 911 call about an erratic driver and the crash in Cooper Township. The board says Pickett might have been intercepted by an officer if dispatchers for three police agencies had shared more information among themselves about three 911 calls.

The report says that three jurisdictions received 911 calls during Pickett's erratic drive and all three dispatchers are in the same room, but they each communicate only with officers of their jurisdiction: Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office and the Township of Kalamazoo Police Depmartment.

Earl F. Weener PhD

NTSB member Earl Weener disagreed last week. He's not convinced that communication by dispatchers was a contributing factor in the crash.  He said that Pickett was driving so erratically that even with better communication, stopping Pickett would have been difficult.

The report details the events of the evening of June 7.  At 6:07pm, Kalamazoo DPS receives a call of a pickup truck driving erratically and the dispatcher sends out a BOL (Be On the Lookout) message to DPS officers. At 6:09pm, the Sheriff's dispatcher receives a 911 call of the pickup driving the wrong way on a roadway in the city and that it was heading to Kalamazoo Township. That dispatcher sent out a message to the other two dispatchers at 6:13pm, but they didn't forward it on to officers in the field.  At 6:19pm, the Township Police dispatcher gets a 911 call of a hit-and-run near a high school, and an officer is dispatched to that scene.

At 6:29pm, the first calls come to 911 of the crash with the nine bicyclists in the 5300 block of North Westnedge Road.

The five victims killed in the crash were Fred Anton (Tony) Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Larry Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo; Debbie Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Suzanne Sippel, 56, of Agusta; and Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, 42, of Augusta.

The four people injured in the crash were Paul Gobble, 47, of Richland; Sheila Jeske, 53, of Richaland; Paul Runnels, 65, of Richland; and Jennifer Johnson, 40 of Kalamazoo.

The NTSB is recommending that the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners create a consolidated dispatch center and asking for all three dispatches to undergo a compliance review by Michigan State 911.


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  • Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

    Yea — and the media did a better job, B. Hussein would never have been elected, because the people would know who he really is!

  • Dave

    Once again, a group of people, playing the Monday morning quarterback position, start playing the blame game. The reality of this unfortunate tragedy is that you have a few patrol units in each jurisdiction and a moving vehicle in a large area that is driving erratically. You have these few patrol units that may or may not already be on a call for service and may or may not be in a location to actually try and intercept the vehicle. These 3 calls come in and it is obvious that the vehicle is moving around. The chance of an intercept of the vehicle is fairly low and nobody knows what other calls for service were being handled. That is the reality of this tragedy. If a police unit was able to get behind this vehicle and attempt to stop it, it may have resulted in a pursuit and the bicyclists still being struck – but then the blame going to the police for pursuing someone just for driving erratically. And then the recommendation that the Michigan State Police do a compliance review of the 911 center? I’m not certain when the MSP became the leading authority on 911 centers, but until just a few years back when they had to start consolidating their dispatch offices due to budget cuts, their State Police Posts had a couple people, at the most, handling their calls coming in – and there were not a lot of them coming in. They would hardly be what I would call an authority on 911 police communications.

  • Adrienne

    While I agree that 22 minutes between the first report of erratic driving and the crash does seem excessive, can’t really blame the police for this incident.