ONLY IN THE WORLD-HERALD
A state commission launched an investigation Wednesday into why it took nearly 40 minutes to locate the scene of a deadly standoff after one of the shooting victims called 911 from a cellphone.
John and Jason Edwards of Papillion were fatally shot Friday as they were helping their sister Julie Edwards move out of the home of ex-boyfriend Kenneth Clark, who lived in a house near 140th and Miami Streets in unincorporated Douglas County.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission, with one state senator calling for answers, will look at why Douglas County dispatchers received information not much more specific than which cellular tower was transmitting the call, believed to have been made by John Edwards.
The dispatcher who took the call should have had much more precise information than that, said Crystal Rhoades, who represents much of Omaha on the commission.
"Something about this didn't work as it was supposed to, and we need to figure out why," she said.
But Mark Conrey, who retired as Douglas County's 911 director in January, said the level of information was hardly uncommon.
According to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Julie Edwards had made arrangements to move her things out of Clark's home, where she had lived. Clark was there when she arrived with her brothers and a
U-Haul truck Friday morning. Authorities believe Clark shot Jason and John Edwards as they finished loading the truck, and then he took Julie Edwards hostage.
The 911 call came in about 10:20 a.m.
Jenny Hansen, director of emergency communications for Douglas County, has said the caller said he was shot, but he didn't know where he was and he couldn't initially provide the name of the man who shot him.
All the dispatcher could tell was that the call was coming from the area of a cell tower at 150th and Blondo Streets.
Information received from the tower indicated that the call was coming from within 400 meters — or about a quarter of a mile — from the tower. But the house where the call was made is actually nearly a mile northeast.
Deputies were sent out to start looking in the area, and the caller finally was able to provide Clark's name to the dispatcher. Officers arrived at Clark's home at 2511 N. 140th St. just before 11 a.m., the Sheriff's Office said.
That began a standoff that lasted about 11 hours. About 2 1/2 hours into it, Clark released Julie Edwards. He was later found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Rhoades said dispatchers and law enforcement officers did everything they could with limited information.
"The point is, they should have had more information," she said "It probably could have saved someone's life."
The shifting of callers from landlines to cellular phones in recent decades presented a problem for emergency dispatchers in that it became more difficult to ascertain a caller's exact location if the caller couldn't tell the dispatcher where he or she was. According to the Public Service Commission, about 72 percent of calls to Douglas County 911 are made by wireless phones.
The wireless enhanced 911 systems used in Nebraska and elsewhere evolved in phases. During Phase I, cellphone companies were required to provide the location of the cell tower transmitting a 911 call and a callback number. During Phase II, which is ongoing, wireless operators are required to provide the location of the phone, accurate within 50 to 300 meters depending on the technology in use, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The need for the enhancement became clear in Nebraska in January 2005, when a young Omaha couple high on methamphetamine froze to death in a blizzard near Gretna. They made confused cellphone calls for help, but dispatchers lacked the equipment needed to locate them.
A 2006 law required all Nebraska counties to have the capability to locate cellphone callers by July 2010, and Douglas County's dispatch center has the capability. But dispatchers Friday morning received only information on the tower being used in the phone call.
Conrey, the former county 911 director, said that's not unusual. In 2015, he said, roughly half of all wireless calls provided only the lower level of information. Conrey said he believed the 50 percent figure would be similar anywhere.
He doesn't know exactly why the system doesn't provide more information much of the time, saying the question would be better asked of cellular phone carriers.
The carrier in question in Friday morning's call is Sprint, which said it is cooperating with the investigation.
"Sprint is in compliance with FCC 9-1-1 regulations, and has the technology and processes in place to provide authorities with accurate location information in situations like this," a company statement said. "It appears the technology and the 9-1-1 system in Douglas County operated as it should. However, we are conducting a more thorough and detailed review of the data."
In most cases, if the more specific location information doesn't come through, Conrey said, help can still be sent as most callers know their location.
Officials said several factors could interfere with a signal containing location data, including whether a phone is in a valley or inside a concrete structure. Clark's home is in a valley near a small creek.
Nebraska cellphone users pay each month to ensure that 911 calls work on their phones.
The Public Service Commission administers the state's Wireless E911 fund, which is funded by a 45-cent monthly surcharge on customers' wireless bills. The fund helps pay for equipment, services and maintenance needed to provide wireless 911 service.
As of the 2014 report, the latest one available on the commission's website, the fund had about $15 million and was paying about $6 million a year to local agencies and wireless providers. The Douglas County center received about $385,000 that year.
State Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion is pushing the commission for answers and sent a letter Wednesday to Tim Schram, the commission chairman, asking why the 911 caller's location wasn't more accurate. Smith is chairman of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
"We need to get this right," Rhoades said. "People's lives depend on this."