When you dial 911, you expect to hear “911. What’s your emergency?”
However, for about 100,000 people living in St. Johns, Eager, Springerville, Pinetop, Lakeside and Concho, that wasn’t the case for a bit.
At 3 pm on June 11, law enforcement confirms there was criminal damage to a fiber that caused communications disruption to cell phones, landlines, internet service, and arguably the most important, 911 lines.
Lines were down for 48 hours.
St. Johns Police Chief Lance Spivey says there was a death because of it.
“A 74-year-old male who was a hospice patient, sick, was found in his home laying on his floor. The person that found him, went over to check on him to make sure he was OK. Had to run and locate the ambulance to come help this person who was still alive. Unfortunately, he passed away while en route to the hospital,” Spivey said.
For about 48 hours, people in these rural Arizona communities did not have consistent access to 911.
Spivey says there was another incident where a young girl was injured during a freak accident and barely survived. This is not the first time the Frontier Communication lines have been down.
“The same scenario happened roughly three years ago. A stretch of fiber was damaged by somebody and phones and everything went down for four or five days. Imagine if you’re in your home, and you can’t call the cops, Spivey said .
Navajo County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the criminal activity that caused the line to go down, but the St. Johns PD still holds Frontier responsible for a lack of maintaining the line and a slow response to getting it up and running again.
“They knew that if this stretch of line was ever damaged again the same thing would happen,” Spivey said. “They knew. They don’t care. They look at it as dollar signs and not people’s lives and that’s just tragic.”
As for the freak accident, it’s a situation Breonna Ellington never imagined. Her 5-year-old daughter got hurt playing with her sister, and she couldn’t call 911, or anyone for that matter.
“She like slipped off her bed and cut herself really badly. She came out screaming,” Ellington said.
Ellington and her husband drove to White Mountain Regional Medical Center, but they weren’t equipped to handle a pediatric injury with such extensive damage.
“Immediately they looked at her wounds, and they were like, ‘we can’t do anything with that type of wound.’ They tried to get hold of Summit and Show Low, and Phoenix Children’s down in the Valley and they weren’t able to call anybody, because they couldn’t call anybody,” Ellington explained.
The Ellington family went in search of gas to fill up their tank before heading three hours to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which was another difficult situation because ATMs were down, they couldn’t fill their tank with a debit or credit card.
Eight hours later, their youngest was finally getting treated by a doctor. She’s going to be OK.
“I didn’t even think that she wasn’t going to make it,” Ellington said. “I just think that I also couldn’t have thought like that, or I would have had a complete meltdown.”