THERE'S SOMEBODY OUT THERE
August 9, 2013
By Audrey Fraizer
EMD Mari Gallegos knew what she had heard.
The caller told her there were “bodies” all over the place. How many bodies, she asked. She needed him to elaborate.
“He told me two,” said Gallegos, a dispatcher for Grady EMS in Atlanta, Ga. “His father and his girlfriend. He was looking for them because he had been the only one still in the car after the crash.”
The hour was late—past midnight—and the weather seasonably wet and cold on the date, Feb. 21, when the driver hit an embankment and the car tumbled down a hill and into a ditch. The driver didn’t know exactly where they were, except somewhere in the vicinity of Marietta, a city outside the Grady EMS jurisdiction, and darkness without side lighting obscured the point of impact.
“You could hear the distress in his voice,” Gallegos said. “We had to figure out exactly where he was.”
Supervisor Shanaque Jackson remembers hearing Gallegos having difficulty confirming an address. Based on the ALI, the caller was somewhere near I-285 and Bolton Road, and dispatch sent the closest unit in the direction of the call. Jackson broke into the call to assist, and once confirming location, EMD Chris Curley called surrounding jurisdictions to have them en route since this was outside Grady EMS territory.
Gallegos stayed on the line with the driver. He had found his father, his passenger in the backseat, but not his girlfriend, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat. Both had been thrown from the vehicle.
“He was clearly distressed,” Gallegos said. “He was determined to find her.”
Gallegos’ hopeful words, “We’re going to do this,” comprised the last contact she had with him. Over the radio she heard responders tell dispatcher Shanta Hutchins two patients were in transport. They were leaving the scene.
That wasn’t right, Gallegos thought. The driver had said three. She asked Hutchins about the third patient and asked the crew to call the communication center. She explained to the crew that there had to be another person. The caller, she said, had been frantically looking for someone, aside from his father, for about six minutes before passing out.
“The six-minute delay was critical information,” Jackson said. With the time element, “the crew was able to backtrack the caller’s route and determine the initial impact of the wreck.”
Forty minutes after the initial call, a paramedic tells Gallegos that he hears someone moaning. Arriving at the source, he finds the “missing” passenger under a bridge 1.7 miles away from the scene of the crash. Her body had been ejected at impact and propelled in a diagonal direction while the car continued to roll down the hill. Although conscious, she had suffered severe facial injuries. Her leg was bleeding from an open femur fracture.
The call was the last of Gallegos’ shift. She left not knowing the woman’s chances of survival; the father had died en route to the hospital. The call had been extremely emotional for other reasons, as well. The caller had told Gallegos personal details about his life. He had lost his mother a month earlier and, since he was driving when the accident occurred, he felt responsibile for the outcome of the accident.
“He was telling her things that would have been difficult to hear even for a seasoned dispatcher,” Jackson said. “I can’t imagine anyone else receiving this call and displaying the type of compassion and concern that Mari displayed this night.”
The incident and Gallegos’ determination showed everyone the importance of actually listening to the caller, Jackson said.
Gallegos was grateful for everyone’s help in staying with the call and finding the second passenger.
“I was told you could hardly see any evidence of the car from the road,” she said. “She could have died out there if no one had found her that night.”
Gallegos worked as an EMT in California prior to moving into dispatch two years ago at Grady EMS. She said the ability to help someone during a crisis and the occasional signs of gratitude reinforce her decision.
“Every once in a while you get that thank-you making it all worthwhile,” she said. “And that’s what happened this time. Everybody had heard about it.”