A Pennsylvania man who called 911 died after dispatch hung up when he didn't speak in English, complaint says

According to a lawsuit, a 911 dispatcher called a man and left him dead after asking him to speak English.
Heriberto Santiago Jr. called 911 last year to report a fire, but spoke Spanish.

The lawsuit claims that dispatch hung up and caused the deaths of his nephew, 14 years old, and him.

According to a federal lawsuit, the 911 dispatcher disconnected a forklift operator from a Pennsylvania Walmart. He didn't speak English and hung up.

He was 44 years old and called 911 when a fire broke out at his Lehigh, Pennsylvania home. His 14-year old nephew, Andres Javier Ortiz, was also present at the scene.

According to the lawsuit, Santiago called the dispatcher, who is believed to be Sonya O'Brien. He "attempted" to notify her about the fire at his house and "frantically begged" to get emergency help.

The dispatcher did not understand or speak Spanish, nor did she use a Spanish language helpline nor did any other dispatcher assist with this matter.

According to the complaint, she allegedly told Santiago to speak English before hanging up.

"As a consequence of the 9-1-1 dispatcher/Ms. O'Brien's uncaring, negligent and reckless conduct in hanging up Mr. Santiago, and failing to take all necessary steps to provide emergency aid, led to Mr. Santiago's death in the fire. According to the coroner's reports, Mr. Santiago died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Eastern District Court. Witnesses revealed that 911 did not include "county-trained dispatchers to use language help lines" in 2019. Witnesses claimed that dispatchers handled emergency calls in an unsafe manner, which "created safety risks and concerns for county residents."

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This lawsuit also addresses discriminatory practices by 911 emergency call center administrators of color. Puerto Rican woman, who was the administrator, claimed that dispatchers and supervisors often referred to people of Latino or Hispanic descent "you people".

In the past, white dispatchers have stated that they do not like receiving calls from Spanish speakers. The lawsuit also states that they frequently "refused to use an 'language line translation service" when speaking with Spanish speakers.

The defendant in the case, Lehigh County, said that the allegation was "baseless" and made an official statement to Insider. Santiago called dispatch and spoke English, according to Lehigh County's timeline. The call taker "told Mr. Santiago help was on the way; fire department has been dispatched."

Also, the statement stated that a Spanish-speaking person called in one minute before Santiago. The dispatcher "immediately transmitted" the call to a translator line. This is our standard operating procedure.

Insider has the original article.

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