Exclusive investigation: Expert says 911 operator gave Norwalk drowning victim wrong information

NORWALK, Ohio - A northern Ohio woman's drowning death sparked an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into what the 911 operator told her before she died.

A water rescue expert told NewsChannel5 the drowning victim was given the wrong information when she called 911.

Northfield Fairfield resident Lisa Roswell died February 28 after floodwaters swept her Volkswagen Beetle into a creek on South Norwalk Road in Norwalk. Roswell called 911 for help. On the recording of the call, the Norwalk police 911 dispatcher told Roswell to stay in her sinking car.

"I would not personally recommend that," said 1st Lt. Mike Krumm with the Michigan State Police. "Our recommendation in a submerged vehicle accident is to try to get out of that vehicle as quickly as you can."

Krumm has taught water safety classes to law enforcement officers for 14 years. He currently teaches a class called "Submerged Vehicle Rescue and Escape Training" at the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing, Mich.

Norwalk police chief David Light told NewsChannel5 he stands behind his 911 dispatcher's decision to tell Roswell to stay in the car.

Light said the floodwaters on South Norwalk Road were too cold and the current was too strong to instruct Lisa Roswell to get out of her car when it became submerged.

He declined numerous opportunities to speak to NewsChannel5 on camera and to send a statement.

"It's hard to second guess someone without being on the scene and not knowing all the particulars," said Krumm.

However, Krumm said leaving a sinking car is a safer choice than waiting inside the vehicle.

"In a current or not, you cannot stay in a vehicle because there's not going to be air trapped in a vehicle if the water level is higher than the highest point of that car," he said.

NewsChannel5 also uncovered that Ohio's 911 dispatchers are not trained to handle calls involving submerged vehicles.

"They're going to have to go off their training experience to find the best solution," said Wadsworth Communications Officer Mike Banks.

Banks has trained 911 dispatchers in Ohio for eight years. He said submerged vehicle situations are not included in 911 training programs.

Banks also said Ohio 911 centers do not have protocol sheets to instruct dispatchers how to handle a submerged vehicle accident. Protocol sheets are common in communications centers. They give 911 dispatchers detailed instructions about how to handle most emergencies, like allergic reactions and heart attacks.

"Now that we have recognized that there is an issue out there, that people are calling in these situations, we need to react to it and create protocols to do everything we can to save that person that's in need," said Banks.

That said, Banks said he would have instructed Lisa Roswell to attempt to escape from her vehicle.

"I think, listening to the call, I would try to ask sooner than later if there's a way they can safely get out," said Banks.

Krumm and Banks said there is no way to know if exiting her vehicle would have saved Roswell's life.

"She could have gotten out of the vehicle and been swept to her death," said Banks.

However, they said 911 dispatchers should know the protocol for every kind of call.

"Unfortunately, sometimes stories like this are the way that messages get out of things that need to be done," said Krumm.

NewsChannel5 made several attempts to contact Lisa Roswell's family for a comment. They declined to discuss the moments leading up to the tragedy.

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This story is the second of three parts of our exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into 911 dispatcher training. In part three that airs Friday night at 11 p.m., we break down the 911 training requirements for each county in Northeast Ohio and examine legislation that calls for better training for 911 operators.

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