Response Time Questioned Following Dallas Officer's Crash


Tanya Eiserer | | Tuesday, February 26, 2008 Editor's Note: For more, check out A.J. Heightman's article "Motorcades Require Advanced Planning."

DALLAS -- Officials are investigating a five-minute delay between when Dallas Fire-Rescue dispatchers learned a motorcycle officer had crashed and when paramedics were first told to go to the scene.

They are also trying to understand why police dispatchers had trouble generating a written order for help immediately.

Authorities say a faster response probably would not have saved Senior Cpl. Victor Lozada, who lost control of his motorcycle Friday while escorting presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to an Oak Cliff rally. But the delay does raise questions about whether the city's new automated dispatch system works as well as it should.

"It does look like it took awhile, and we're looking into it to see if anything went wrong," First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who oversees the police and fire departments, said Saturday.

Fire Deputy Chief Tommy Tine, commander of fire dispatch, declined to comment when reached by telephone. Fire Chief Eddie Burns did not return e-mails requesting comment.

Lt. Joel Lavender, a fire spokesman, sent an e-mail Sunday stating that the department was "gathering factual information related to this incident."

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said "that officers who were at the scene of the accident were concerned about how long it took for an ambulance to respond." He said he could not comment further until he knew all the facts.

It was about 9:15 a.m. Friday when the Clinton motorcade headed across the Houston Street Viaduct toward the rally. Cpl. Lozada came around a curve while performing a standard high-speed "leapfrog" maneuver to pass the motorcade and lost control of his bike.

It ran up onto a sidewalk and hit the concrete railing, throwing the 49-year-old officer about 100 feet along the street to his death.

Colleagues, in a frenzy, radioed to police dispatchers for help at 9:18 a.m. But dispatchers had trouble acting quickly.

One officer told a dispatcher that there was a problem with the motorcade and that he needed an ambulance, but the dispatcher initially had trouble understanding him because of howling winds. And the address a dispatcher typed in for the viaduct location showed up as invalid in a computer database.

Meanwhile, police dispatch officials used a direct telephone line called the "ring down line" to contact fire dispatch, telling them that an officer had been badly injured. Fire officials received that call at 9:21 a.m., records show.

But it wasn't until 9:26 that a fire engine was dispatched from Station 18, in downtown Dallas, and an ambulance was dispatched from Station 3, just outside downtown, records show. The engine arrived about four minutes later -- an average response time.

Some police officials believe the five-minute delay occurred because fire officials waited for the typed "call sheet" from the police dispatcher -- a request for help that automatically notifies rescuers to respond -- instead of acting based on the 9:21 phone call.

The question is "why, when we called on the phone, did somebody not get punched out of the station right then?" said police Lt. Tony Crawford, a supervisor in police dispatch.

He added that he believed that officials in police and fire dispatch would "walk through fire to get help for that police officer."

Lt. Crawford said he does not believe the address problem played a major part in the delay.

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