Dispatchers say text messages saved woman’s life

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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. (April 19, 2016) - Bartholomew county authorities believe a quick-thinking dispatcher, and the ability to text back and forth with a domestic battery victim likely saved the woman’s life.

The Bartholomew County Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call shortly after 4 a.m. Monday. The dispatcher could hear a woman on the line telling somebody to “drop the weapon.” The line was left open, but the woman did not respond to any of the dispatchers questions about the emergency.

“As soon as I answered the 911 call and heard the mention of a firearm, I knew it was a pretty serious call and we needed to get her help right away,” said Bartholomew County Emergency Dispatcher Dylan Prather.

It is standard protocol for dispatchers to send text messages in response to an incomplete 911 call from a cell phone. After getting no response to his questions, Prather used the dispatch center’s texting program to send text messages to the woman, asking about her situation:

Bartholomew Co 911: “This is 911... is everything okay?”

Victim: “He put the gun down but I don`t think he`s stable.”

Bartholomew Co 911: “Are you able to talk?”

Victim: “No”

Bartholomew Co 911: “What is name? And what kind of gun?”

Victim:  “Joshua Hehman. 12 g shotgun.... he is still saying he is going to kill me”

“I wasn’t going to jeopardize her life by calling her back and him realizing that there were police officers on the way,” Prather said.

Prather says he had already pinged the woman’s cell phone for its approximate location and sent deputies toward the Elizabethtown home, but the woman was able to text her exact address to him. Officers arrived in time to prevent injury to the woman and her 3-year old child in the home.

They arrested 32-year-old Joshua Hehman on a preliminary charge of domestic battery in the presence of a minor.

“Thanks to the quick action of our dispatcher, I feel that he saved a life that night,” said Bartholomew County Emergency Communications Director, Ed Reuter.

“Going home that night and knowing I potentially saved that lady’s life and we put a bad guy in jail, that’s the whole goal,” Prather said. “There’s not enough money in the world to pay you for what happened that night."

Reuter hopes the case will continue to spread awareness about the option of texting to 911 during emergencies. He says the technology is available in all 92 Indiana Counties, and Indiana is one of the top states in the nation to utilized the service. He says many Hoosiers are not aware that it’s available to them.

“We’ve had several cases here in Bartholomew County since May of 2014 that have resulted where there’s been criminal arrest or some type of critical incident where we’ve needed to get police and fire,” Reuter said. “We even had a heart attack called in on a text to 911 because they were not able to communicate by voice.”

Texting to 911 is just like sending a text to any other number. You simply start a new text message, addressed to 911, type your message and hit send. GPS tracking will send it to the appropriate county’s dispatch center, based on your location. The messages appear on dispatchers computer screens, just like 911 voice calls.

Reuter says a voice call is still the preferred option, since dispatchers can learn a lot from the tone of a caller’s voice and background sounds of a call. But if a voice call is not possible, texting 911 is the next best thing.

“I think it’s still catching on,” Reuter said. “I think there’s a lot of people becoming more and more aware of it as there are more stories like this that do come out.”

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