Man Dies After 911 Calls Go For Naught

Curtis Mitchell needed an ambulance but it never arrived.

“I’m very angry, because I feel they didn’t do their job like they supposed to,” said Edge, 51. “My man would still be living if they’da did they job like they was supposed to … They took somebody that I love away.”

Now Pittsburgh officials have ordered an investigation and reforms of the city’s emergency services system as Mitchell’s case highlighted key shortcomings:

• Details of Mitchell’s calls weren’t passed on from one 911 operator to another as shifts changed, so each call was treated as a new incident.

• Twice, ambulances were as close as a quarter-mile from Mitchell’s home but drivers said deep snow prevented the vehicles from crossing a small bridge over railroad tracks to reach him. Mitchell was told each time he’d have to walk through the snow to the ambulances; in neither case did paramedics walk to get him.

• Once, an ambulance made it across the bridge and was at the opposite end of the block on the narrow street where the couple lived — a little more than a football field’s length. Again, paramedics didn’t try to walk.

“We failed this person,” said Michael Huss, the city’s public safety director.

Regardless of how deep the snow was, Huss said it was unacceptable that paramedics didn’t walk to help Mitchell. If they had, Huss believes Mitchell may have survived.

“… You get out of that damn truck and you walk to the residence,” Huss said. “That’s what needed to happen. We could have carried him out.”

A review of the 911 calls by the Associated Press shows no anger in Mitchell’s or Edge’s voices. There was no screaming. Conversations with operators were cordial and the couple seemed to understand the difficulties the snow posed.

Still, Mitchell and Edge let them know he was in pain.

“My stomach man, it’s real messed up. It’s killing me,” he tells a 911 operator about 11:15 a.m. on Feb. 6.

About 8 p.m. that night — in the eighth call to 911 — Edge tells an operator: “My boyfriend called for an ambulance. He’s in a lot of pain and we’ve been waiting for a couple hours now.”

As the hours went by, Mitchell’s pain intensified and he began to have shortness of breath. Because he complained of abdominal pain, which is generally not considered life-threatening, he was initially ranked as a medium priority. About 11:20 a.m. Saturday, his priority level was upgraded, but not as an emergency.

Mitchell tried to sleep. He took his prescriptions — oxycodone for pain and sleeping pills for his insomnia. Edge gave him the medication and closely followed the dosage, she said.

Shortly before 8 a.m. on Feb. 7, Edge made her last 911 call.

“I think my husband’s dead. Oh God, oh God,” she sobbed.

The 911 operator told Edge to calm down and asked for the address and phone number.

“I’ve been trying to get an ambulance here for three days. He’s been having stomach pains,” Edge said.

The operator talked Edge through a check to see if Mitchell was breathing. Try to get him onto the floor on his back, the operator said.

But Mitchell’s body was cold. Edge couldn’t wake him.

“Oh God, he can’t leave me … Curtis? Curtis?” Edge said, struggling to move him.

The operator assured Edge that paramedics were on the way.

“He’s dead,” Edge said.

“No, no, no. You’re going to stay with me,” the operator said, continuing the checks on Mitchell.

Finally, someone came to the door.

“Who is it?” asked Edge. “Is it the medics?”

“Yes.”

“All right,” said the operator. “You did a good job. I’m going to hang up now. Let them in. Good bye.”

The snow had long since stopped falling. It took firefighters two minutes from being dispatched to reach the couple’s home.

They checked for a pulse, but it was too late.

“They said he was gone,” Edge said.

It would be five more hours before workers from the medical examiner’s office came for Mitchell’s body.

A police officer waited with her. Edge sat on the sofa with the body.

“I kissed and hugged him,” she said of Mitchell. “But it was all I could do.”

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