Dispatcher who claims she couldn't hear teen trapped in van to return from leave

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati police say dispatcher Amber Smith will return from administrative leave Wednesday.

Both technical problems and human error may be to blame in failing to locate Seven Hills student Kyle Plush. Police say their internal investigation is ongoing.

A police source said one week of leave is customary for dispatchers in situations involving a death.

Plush, 16, was found dead inside the family's gold Honda Odyssey van by his father near the school Tuesday night, about five hours after the teen placed two 911 calls pleading for help and providing details on his location and the description of his vehicle.

Plush was retrieving his tennis gear when the third-row seat of the 2004 Honda Odyssey flipped, pinning him upside down.

Police Chief Eliot Isaac said police officers were searching for the teen in a school parking lot while the he was on the phone during the second phone call with the dispatcher, Amber Smith.

According to the reports, Smith said she couldn't hear him during the 911 call.

His first call came at 3:14 p.m., where Plush repeatedly yelled for help.

The second call came in 21 minutes later. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said something went "terribly wrong."

Hours later, a family member found the student unresponsive in his unlocked minivan.

"This young man was crying out for help, we weren't able to get the information to the officers at the scene and we need to find out why," Isaac said.

Smith received a 60 percent on her call review, which is considered unacceptable.

According to the review, Smith had told her supervisors her computer screen froze, which prevented her from entering information.

The review also said "active listening not attempted," and said it could have been because of these several reasons, "Is call taker on the line? Walk away? Headset off?"

"It is a tough job," said Dick Young, who was a 911 operator in the Tri-State for more than 40 years. "Something you really don't know until you've been there and done that."

Smith scored a good grade on two questions: proper greeting provided and proper tone of voice used.

She was placed on leave.

"You look at what they put in the computer. You look at how they reacted on the phone. Did they ask the proper questions? And if that comes out OK then your fine. If it doesn't you have to go through a review process with them," said Young.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati Police have launched separate investigations into the incident.

Mayor John Cranley and other elected officials also are calling for a review of the city's emergency communications center, which has been plagued with issues for years.

"The events leading up to Kyle's death are devastating and also raise concerning questions about our City's emergency 911 system and police response," Cranley said Thursday.

"While it is unclear if there is wrongdoing by the city in this tragedy, we have a profound responsibility to find out. I applaud Police Chief Eliot Isaac for launching an investigation on the specific issues that happened Tuesday. However, separate from this incident, the problems of management, supervision, and technology have been reported at the 911 center for years."

The Hamilton County coroner ruled Plush's death an accidental asphyxia due to chest compression. No evidence of foul play was found.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The audio of hearing Kyle plead for help and knowing he is dying during the calls is simply heartbreaking and quite disturbing. And we decided not to play that audio. However, now that we are hearing reports the 911 operator says she couldn't hear Kyle, that audio and the audio quality becomes extremely relevant in the investigation and should not be censored from the public. We still believe hearing Kyle on the calls is gut-wrenching and simply too disturbing to air on TV. But we are making those calls available online, and you can hear them by clicking the link below. Those wishing to hear the audio and judge for themselves whether they understand Kyle can do so. Those not wishing to hear the audio can simply avoid clicking on the link to the 911 calls.

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