WITN Investigates: Jacksonville mother calling for change after son dies following 911 call

When you call 911, seconds matter. With each one that ticks by, the outcome once help arrives can change drastically.
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 7:56 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - When you call 911, seconds matter. With each one that ticks by, the outcome once help arrives can change drastically.

For one Onslow County mother, the time lost may have cost her her child last November. She’s now calling for change so no other family has to feel the same pain.

Ring doorbell footage shows EMTs arriving at Chasity Keeter’s home on November 27, 2022. About four minutes before that, she said her son started acting strange.

“He started going into one of his episodes. That’s what [doctors] would call it: an episode,” Keeter explained. “He would get really stiff. He would do the lip-smacking. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t drink.”

She said her son was previously diagnosed by doctors with a neurological disease that can cause muscle spasms. This time she said his reaction was worse than she’s ever seen before.

“He wouldn’t acknowledge you, like you would call his name or you would snap your fingers, and he just wouldn’t acknowledge you,” she explained.

That’s when she placed the call to Onslow County 911. After sharing her address and what she needed, the dispatcher continues to ask questions – specifically requesting that if she had an AED, she should retrieve it. She quickly explains she doesn’t have one.

A minute and 21 seconds into the call, the dispatcher even seems to forget what’s happening on the other end and asks who’s on the other line.

For two minutes of the call, the dispatcher falls silent, even when Keeter directly asks what to do. In a recording of the call, you can hear her ask directly what to do.

“Why are they not telling us what to do?” she said to her husband,“ you hear Keeter ask. “What are we supposed to be doing? Aren’t we supposed to do CPR or something?”

But seconds keep ticking by.

“If we could’ve done just chest compressions, something like that to keep the blood flowing to his brain, maybe it would’ve been a different outcome,” she said.

It’s impossible to say what would have happened if she’d been given instructions during that phone call. EMTs arrived after about four minutes. The toddler later died at a hospital in New Hanover County. He’s now just a memory.

“Nobody should experience the pain of losing a child. Nobody should experience that, but especially if you call 911, they’re supposed to tell you what to do. They’re supposed to help you. That’s what they’re there for,” she said, sadly.

WITN reached out to Onslow County 911 for answers about what happened. We asked what kind of training their telecommunicator needs to be able to perform the job and were told all of them need a National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatcher Certification, which requires forty hours of training and an annual recertification.

They wouldn’t tell us who took the call. An Onslow County spokesperson says the telecommunicators work console malfunctioned during the emergency and the employee couldn’t access post-dispatch instructions.

When we asked if the problem was fixed, the spokesperson said they wouldn’t comment any further. The series of events begs the question: Do dispatchers need to know how to instruct someone on CPR without the help of a console?

WITN’s Courtney Bunting talked to a 911 director in the east, not in Onslow County, who said, while each county is different, some have physical documents they can use to walk through the CPR process if their system goes down, but most telecommunicators also know how to give CPR instructions by memory.

Meanwhile, Keeter is taking matters into her own hands for the future.

“God forbid we see somebody on the street… we could help them,” she said. “We know that skill now to be able to help somebody.”

But she’s hoping her story will stop other parents from feeling the same pain.

“I just want the person on the other line held accountable for what he did not do,” Keeter said. “He did not do his job that night. There needs to be better training; he needs to be fired. Something has to happen so that doesn’t happen again. I don’t want anybody else’s baby without oxygen for four minutes.”

Onslow County won’t share the name of who took the call, nor would they say if that person still works with them because it’s a personnel issue. We are still in discussions with them and will update this story if those questions are answered.

The 911 director WITN spoke to acknowledged that it’s possible the telecommunicator froze up when the console malfunction happened or that they genuinely did not know how to perform CPR. However, even if they weren’t EMD-certified, someone else in the room at the time of the call should have been.