SAN FRANCISCO -- Hayward, Calif., police and federal investigators did the grunt work, and it paid off:
They tracked down and arrested a cell phone caller believed to have phoned the emergency 911 number more than 27,000 times making bodily noises, muttering in a disguised voice, and pressing the beep tone.
On Wednesday night, police arrested John Triplette, 45, of Hayward on suspicion of abusing the 911 emergency line, a misdemeanor punishable by $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
"He completely overwhelmed our system," said Desi Calzada, manager of the Hayward Communications Center, which operates 911. "He delayed the answering of other 911 calls because we were answering his."
It all started last May, when the California Highway Patrol's communication center in Vallejo began receiving copious 911 calls from a mysterious caller using a T-Mobile cell phone. Over a seven-month period, the caller placed 17,000 calls to the CHP.
In early January, Hayward's dispatch center took over the local 911 calls and became the new target of the bogus calls.
"The caller would make various noises, including grunts and other bodily noises, minimal conversation in a disguised voice, beeps from the touch pad, etc.," according to Lt. Chris Orrey, a spokeswoman for the Hayward Police Department.
In a single week, the center received 1,327 calls from the same phone, inflating the number of incoming calls by 30 percent.
Then Calzada and Hayward police Detective Bill Alexander contacted the Federal Communications Commission, which can track 911 frequencies and pinpoint a single caller's location.
But before he was nabbed, the caller managed to grunt in another 10,000 calls to the police, as well as 4,000 to the Solano County Sheriff's Department, Orrey said in a written statement.
When the investigators finally located the cell phone at Triplette's home in the 24000 block of Amador Street, Triplette apologized for making the calls, according to Orrey's account.
His explanation for all those calls?Triplette told police, "Because it's free."