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911 training strengthened following Starbuck homicide

February 8, 2012

An investigation into the December homicide of a Deer Park woman has revealed that a call to the 911 communications center from the victim’s cellular phone was not immediately forwarded to the sheriff’s office for investigation.
Spokane County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Craig Chamberlin explained that hang-up calls into the 911 center fall into two categories. A Phase One call gives the cellular phone number and the cellular tower location. A Phase Two call gives the number plus the latitude and longitude of the cellular phone.
Homicide investigators claim Clay Starbuck pretended that his car was broken down Dec. 1 and asked his ex-wife to drive their children to school. This gave him time to break into her Reiper Avenue home and hide.
They believe he attacked her at 9:17 a.m. – the same time the 911 dispatch center received a brief call from her cellphone.
The detective reviewing the 911 call determined that there was a short high-pitched guttural sound of a female followed by rustling noise consistent with a struggle in the three seconds before the 911 call taker answered the phone, “911…”
Chanin Starbuck’s call fell into the Phase Two category and should have been followed up by the call taker making two phone call attempts back to her cellphone, Chamberlin explained. In this instance, only a single call was attempted and the 911 call was never forwarded to sheriff’s dispatch.
“We learned of the mistake while making evidentiary recordings for major crimes detectives,” said 911 Director Lorlee Mizell Wednesday. “We addressed it with the call taker on Dec. 27.”
Spokane County 911 is a separate organization and is the link between citizens who need help, the Sheriff’s Office and other public safety agencies throughout the county.
“911’s responsibility to provide this critical information is a vital link to ensuring a safer Spokane community,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
Mizell said that corrective action would not stop there. All call takers and supervisors will begin receiving a formal “hang up call” refresher on Monday, and it will be addressed again at an upcoming supervisors meeting. A third session to cover hang up calls will be held at the next monthly training meeting, she said.
The 911 center received more than 1,700 hang up calls in January. About 900 were Phase One calls and another 280 were Phase Two. The remaining hang up calls were tracked to the caller’s cell phone and were resolved.

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