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911 operators suspended, policy changed after Sawgrass wrong-way crash

Two 911 operators at the Coral Springs Police Department have been handed an eight-hour suspension without pay for mishandling emergency calls that preceded a fatal wrong-way crash last year on the Sawgrass Expressway.

In confirming the disciplinary action, Lt. Bradley McKeone said Wednesday that police did not believe the operators' behavior could have altered what happened early on the morning of Nov. 17, when two 21-year-old Coral Springs women, Marisa Catronio and Kaitlyn Ferrante, were killed.

But the operators were faulted for causing a delay in getting officers to the area after motorists began calling to report seeing a car traveling east in the westbound lane about 1:45 a.m.

The operators didn't enter the information as a call for service into the computer-aided dispatch system, known as CAD.

Instead, the operators told some callers to hang up and call the Florida Highway Patrol while verbally passing information to a Coral Springs dispatcher who shares their office, McKeone said. Still, police did determine that the first 911 call was "immediately transferred" to FHP, and other calls also were transferred.

"As a result of this review, it has been determined that two of the Coral Springs Police Department's Emergency Call Takers did not meet standards expected of our employees during this incident," McKeon said in a press release.

A review of the operators' action also has resulted in a change of policy, which had been for police officers to respond to reports of crashes with injuries on the Sawgrass while leaving calls about reckless driving to the Highway Patrol, McKeone said.

"We'll go up there pretty much on any call now, without waiting to see if it's our jurisdiction or FHP," McKeone said. "If we're not needed, we can always cancel."

Police officials found that on the morning of the crash, operators "maybe failed to see the criminality potential of these calls," McKeone said. "Now our response would be to get the call to our CAD system and get someone up there. We could have done better."

McKeone said it took three minutes and 33 seconds from the time the first call about the suspected wrong-way driver came in until Coral Springs officers were dispatched to the Sawgrass.

Subtracting from that the average police response time of 45 seconds, McKeone said the overall delay was about 2 minutes and 48 seconds.

"The investigation showed that the vehicle traveling the wrong way was traveling approximately 100 mph," McKeone said in the press release. "Based on the reported location and calculated speed of the vehicle, the time it would have taken Coral Springs police officers to respond to the area would not have given personnel enough time to locate the vehicle."

Gary Catronio, Marisa's father, said that neither does he know if the crash could have been prevented. But he said, "I would have liked to have that extra time to to see what happened. Sadly, this just adds one huge 'what if?' to our list of 'what ifs?'"

Kayla Mendoza, 21, of Hallandale Beach, is charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter while impaired, two counts of DUI manslaughter with an unlawful blood-alcohol level, two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of driving without a license causing death.

Authorities say Mendoza had a blood-alcohol level of .15 — almost twice the legal limit — when she drove a Hyundai Sonata onto the expressway in the wrong direction and slammed head-on into a 2012 Toyota Camry driven by Ferrante. Mendoza was 20 years old at the time.

Mendoza is jailed on $600,000 bond.

Although the Highway Patrol is responsible for policing the Sawgrass Expressway, Coral Springs officers also may work that section of the highway that passes through the city, according to FHP spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky.

mwclary@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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