WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) – Emergency dispatcher Kari Bueno once wanted the person clogging up their lines with false 911 calls to get into a lot of trouble.
“At first, I admit it, we were pretty mad. ‘We’ve got to find who this person is. This is ridiculous,’” she recalled saying. “‘What are we going to do? We are so mad.’”
In less than a week, someone had made more than 4,000 calls to 911. At one point, Bueno was receiving three to four calls a minute – all of them from the same number, which traced back to a disconnected cellphone.
“It ties up all your 911 operators. We have to answer every call. We have to track down every call,” she said.
About three weeks ago, West Jordan police finally tracked down the person making those calls.
But it wasn’t what dispatchers were expecting.
“And then we found out it was somebody with a disability who was just trying to listen to music. There was no intent to call 911. So then we were all kind of like, ‘Oh, well now we feel bad. It wasn’t just a kid trying to cause problems,” Bueno said.
“The officer called and told me (the man) thought he was in trouble. He was crying and upset and he thought he was going to be in trouble. I wanted the person to be in trouble until I heard the story.”
The person making the calls was 30-year-old David VanBibber, who has a mental disability. His family says he functions on the level of an 8-year-old.
“He still is a kid in an adult body,” said his father, Steven VanBibber.
David VanBibber had an old cellphone that he used as an iPod to listen to music. The phone was disconnected and unable to make calls. But even disconnected cellphones are still able to call 911, which he was accidentally doing while trying to access his music.
Bueno and other dispatchers didn’t intend for VanBibber to have his music taken away. But they couldn’t have him continually dial 911, either.
The day the cellphone was taken away, Bueno came up with the idea of raising money among the dispatch center employees to buy an iPod Nano and a $100 iTunes gift certificate for him. On Wednesday, VanBibber and his family were invited to Valley Emergency Communications Center and were presented with the gifts.
The presentation brought tears to the eyes of his father.
“You know, in an environment where the police are so unfairly treated, to see this kind of an outreach that touches my son and touches my family, it’s just incredible,” he said. “That they would honor my son for his disruption to such an important service, to be here today and to feel this outpouring for my son . is just really touching as a parent. (I’m) just grateful for this.”
VanBibber said music has always been an important part of his son’s life.
“It creates a lot of solace for him,” he said.
He said his son listens to everything from Bon Jovi to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
David, with a big smile on his face, seemed just as excited to get a tour of the dispatch facility and to talk to reporters. As he was getting the iPod, he turned to Bueno and told her, “You’re awesome.”
He then told everyone “Merry Christmas,” before leaving.
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com
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