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911 operator fired following fatal mistake

ATLANTA -- Darlene Dukes died waiting for help that was delayed 25 minutes because a 911 operator sent emergency crews to the wrong address, Fulton County officials said.

And her family, flown down from New York, was angry Tuesday night to learn of the mix-up from local media and not from officials.

The 911 operator has been fired, said Alfred "Rocky" Moore, Fulton's 911 director. And county officials are apologizing for an error they say should not have been made. The incident occurred Saturday about 1 p.m. when Dukes called 911 for help.

The operator, whose name was not released, dispatched crews to Wells Street in Atlanta when Dukes was at home on Wales Street in Johns Creek north of Atlanta. Moore said the operator misheard the address spoken by Dukes, 39, who was "in respiratory distress."

The operator should have noticed, Moore said, that the call came from a cell tower in north Fulton County, not Atlanta.

"We are taking action against the employee," Moore said. "It's warranted."

Moore said the operator stayed on the phone with Dukes for 25 minutes waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Dukes fell silent 17 minutes into the call. The remaining 8 minutes the operator spent imploring Dukes to respond, Moore said.

Dukes has two sons, ages 15 and 11, but neither was at home at the time. A web designer for Verizon, she moved to Atlanta from New York City 4 1/2 years ago.

Her father, Levern Dukes Sr., and mother, Ida, were told she died of a pulmonary embolism, but they did not know that 911 was responsible for a delayed response to her call until reporters began calling them Tuesday evening. A news release from Fulton County's Office of Community Relations was sent to news media at 6 p.m. Tuesday describing the incident and noting that an investigation into the incident is under way.

Ida Dukes, her mother, asked "What happened to my daughter? Something went wrong and I would like to find out. If they had responded timely, would she be alive today?"

Derrick Dukes, her brother, said, "To say that Darlene could still be here, I would really hate to think that something went wrong."

Darlene Dukes will be buried on Saturday in New York. A memorial service for her friends in Atlanta will be announced later, her family said.

Moore said his operator was distraught about the mistake and her long phone call with Dukes.

"She's not taking it well," Moore said. "We are taking action against the employee regardless of how hard it is."

The mistake, Moore said, is one that should not have happened. The operator, he said, should have recognized the discrepancy and asked questions, Moore said.

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker called the situation "sad."

"Anytime you have loss of life it's sad," Bodker said. "You can move that out to the parents, the loved ones, the friends. It's just sad for everyone."

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