LAUREL, Ind. —
In the early morning of March 20, 2020, the rain had been pouring down for hours.
It was pitch dark and the Sanes Creek in Laurel, Indiana, was flooding fast. Neighbors were worried something bad was going to happen.
The calls started coming in around 3 a.m. saying the creek was overflowing its banks. Then, at 4:18 a.m., Franklin County resident Diane Madden approached the bridge and saw water flowing across the top of the bridge. She called dispatchers afraid neighbors were going to start getting up for work and would drive into the rushing water.
“The bridge on Sanes Creek Road is completely washed away,” Madden said to dispatchers.
Seven 911 calls were made in 40 minutes — three concerning the Sanes bridge.
According to court records, despite three dispatchers being on call, no one sent help. Madden’s last words were eerie foreshadowing for what was about to happen.
She told the dispatcher, “Somebody better get down here and block it off before somebody goes into the river.”
Thirty-six minutes later another neighbor called 911 saying a car was in the water and she could hear children screaming for help. Felina Lewis, who was taking her daughters, 7-year-old Elysium and 4-year-old Kylee and her 13-year-old son Ethan to the babysitters drove down Sanes Hill and right into the rushing water.
Shortly after, a pick-up with two men, Burton Spurlock and Shawn Roberts were swept away, too.
Josh Mosier who talked with WLWT News Anchor Sheree Paolello earlier this year, lost his two little girls Kylee and Elysium that morning. What they went through in their final moments still haunts him.
“They were screaming and headlights bouncing up and down out of the trees,” he said.
Now for the first time, we’re seeing what was going on inside that 911 call center.
Court records show three dispatchers were working that morning — a supervisor, a dispatcher who’d been on the job for six months and another dispatcher who’d only been training for four weeks. That trainee was the one taking the calls about the bridge being washed out.
During a deposition with attorneys, Jon Hundley, the supervisor in charge of Franklin County’s 911 department, admits it wasn’t an especially busy night with only seven calls coming in total during that 40 minutes. When pressed by attorneys Hundley admits dispatchers should have sent help. During his deposition he’s asked, what would he have done?
Attorney: “So you get a call that a bridge has washed out?”
Attorney: “Are you calling county highway?”
Attorney: “Are you calling a sheriff’s deputy?”
Hundley: “Yeah. If there’s one available, yes.”
Attorney: “And is that the policy of the department?”
The policy and procedure manual spells out, a county highway supervisor should always be called if there’s any type of obstruction or failure to a Franklin County road. Not only did that trainee not send help, but the supervisor who was listening in on the call didn’t send help either.
During Hundley’s deposition he’s asked, “Do you agree that after receiving that call and doing nothing about it, the dispatcher’s actions showed a complete lack of regard for the danger to the motoring public in the Sanes Creek Bridge area?”
After a big sigh, Hundley said, “Yes.”
But that’s not all. In video WLWT obtained from inside the call center, you see that supervisor hang up from the 911 call where a neighbor just told them the bridge had washed away and someone was going to go into the river, and he reaches straight for his personal cell phone. In a lawsuit filed by the families, they claim he was on Facebook posting messages to social media.
After more than two hours of being deposed the last question, the attorney asked Hundley, “Can you sit here under oath and tell me anything that you’ve ever seen that’s worse in terms of a 911 dispatcher’s indifference to a life-threatening situation than what’s just been reported?”
He said, “No. Not that I’m aware of.”
Mosier will never get his little girls back. But he wants the people who were supposed to be protecting them held accountable, so another family doesn’t have to feel the same pain.
The supervisor who was posting to Facebook the night the Sanes Bridge washed away was fired. But the other two dispatchers kept their jobs with Franklin County. One of them, just resigned on his own, this past September. But the dispatcher who was in training that morning still works in the 911 center.
The county maintains its emergency workers are protected by immunity. We have reached out to the county multiple times for comment but our calls have not been returned.