February 9, 2012 in Region

Records detail 911 call for help in Powell case

Deputy took 14 minutes to reach home ablaze
Mike Baker And Gene Johnson Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Authorities work Sunday at the house near Frederickson, Wash., where explosions occurred moments after a social worker brought the two Powell boys to the home.
(Full-size photo)

TACOMA – Emergency call logs show that nearly eight minutes elapsed between when a social worker called 911 to report that Josh Powell’s children were in danger and when sheriff’s deputies were dispatched. It took another 14 minutes for a deputy to get to the home, but by then the home was engulfed in flames with Powell and his two young sons inside.

The Associated Press obtained the logs Wednesday night under a public records request.

Recently released recordings of the 911 calls raised questions about the dispatch center’s handling of the social worker’s calls. She detailed how Powell, the husband of a missing Utah woman, had locked her out of the house during what was supposed to be a supervised visit with his sons.

Minutes later, Powell torched the home, killing himself and the boys.

The recordings showed that the man who took the worker’s 911 call engaged in nearly seven minutes of questioning that ended with him saying he didn’t know how long it would be before deputies could respond.

The audio didn’t make clear when the deputies were dispatched. The logs show it apparently happened about a minute after the call ended.

Authorities said it seemed unlikely a quicker response could have saved the boys, who had also been attacked with a hatchet.

The logs show the social worker called 911 from her cellphone at 12:08 p.m. Sunday. Five minutes later, the man who took her call transferred the information to a dispatcher, who alerted two deputies about 2 1/2 minutes later, at 12:16.

But at precisely that time, calls began pouring in to report explosions at the house – apparently from the gasoline-fueled inferno blowing out windows.

Deputies arrived on the scene at 12:30 to find the home engulfed in flames.

Pierce County sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said his department was disappointed in the manner of the initial call-taker, saying it left the impression that help wasn’t immediately on the way. But he said he did not believe the conversation created any unnecessary delays.

“Are we unhappy with the etiquette and the manner? Yes,” Troyer said. “Did it affect the response time? No. Dispatchers are typing information and addresses while they’re on the phone with callers.”

It took almost two minutes from the start of the call for the dispatcher to learn Powell’s address and more than three minutes to understand that she was there to supervise a child custody visit. Near the end of the call, she asked how long before officers could get there.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” he said. “We have to respond to emergency life-threatening situations first.”

She responded: “This could be life-threatening … I’m afraid for their lives.”

The agency that runs the call center said it would review the handling of the case and start a disciplinary investigation if necessary.

Powell’s wife, Susan, vanished in Utah two years ago. He has long been a person of interest but maintained that he had taken his boys – then 2 and 4 – camping at the time of her disappearance.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email