Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dispatcher defends her tragic decision

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Brenda Foy didn't send a police car to help Doreen Leclair and Corrine McKeown the night they died because she didn't feel their situation justified pulling cars from another area.

And Foy told the 911 inquest she would have read the details of that fourth call -- contradicting an allegation made last week -- because it is always her first task when she starts dispatching.

"To do the job effectively you have to know what's in the queue, before new calls come in," Foy said.

While there were cars available in other areas of the city that night, all the cars in the district where Leclair lived were tied up. Foy testified it wasn't policy to pull cars from other districts unless the call was a priority 1 or E. The sister's fourth -- and next to last -- call was given a priority 2P.

But Foy also said the information she had about the situation didn't compel her to upgrade the priority or bring in other cars, even after the call sat in the queue for more than an hour.

Foy was the dispatcher on Feb. 16, 2000 during the 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. period when the sisters made their final two calls to 911.

They phoned police five times in the eight hours before their death, four of them on the 911 line. A police car was sent after the first and last calls, when police arrived to find the women stabbed to death. McKeown's sometimes boyfriend, William Dunlop, is serving a life sentence for the murders.

When operator Sue Cieslar answered the fourth call from the women, just before 3 a.m., she decided police should attend and sent it to be dispatched. She assigned it a priority 2P and wrote the following details -- that there was a breach of a court order, the man was there, one sister was intoxicated and one was sober, and there was yelling in the background.

After the women's deaths, the police professional standards unit launched an investigation into the operators who spoke to the women that night, but Foy said no one ever asked her way a car hadn't been sent during those two hours.

Asked by the family's lawyer, Norm Cuddy, whether dispatchers are aware that incidents can escalate if left waiting, Foy said it does happen. Cuddy pressed her on how long a call would have to sit before she pulled a car from another district, but she said there isn't an answer.

"I don't think there is a limit. Each situation is unique," she said. "With the details of that particular call, nothing alerted me to cross-dispatch.

"We deal with hundreds, thousands, of calls exactly like that, in a manner exactly like that."

Foy said while some of the lengthy waiting times for police to arrive at a possible crime scene are unacceptable, "you have to live with it."

She kept thinking a car would be available soon, but when one became free about 4:30 a.m., it had to be sent on two priority 1 calls that popped up.

Last week, Cieslar said Foy admitted never reading the details of that fourth call.

Yesterday, Foy had an opportunity to address the charge, saying Cieslar misunderstood her. Briefly tearing up, she recalled the conversation they'd had on Cieslar's front porch three months after the women's deaths. Cieslar, three other operators and a duty inspector were on administrative leave. Foy was not.

"When Sue saw me, it was a bit emotional because I hadn't seen her," she said. "We welted up with tears. Neither of us wanted to go there.

"I tried to tell her, I don't remember the exact words, that I didn't remember the exact details of the call, but we'd dealt with these types of calls thousands of times in the past and it was always deemed proper. It's going to be OK.

"I meant I didn't recall the exact details of that particular call."

She said while she didn't specifically recall reading the call, she would have because part of the routine when starting to dispatch would be to read all the information.

kim.guttormson@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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