Cell phone glitch delayed police help

July 1, 2008 7:45:17 PM PDT
One of the two victims in last weekend's double homicide called 911 almost an hour before neighbors reported hearing gunshots, but Mountain View Police were delayed.

Cities like Mountain View have a system in place called Enhanced 911. That means if you make a cellular 911 call within the city limits, your call goes directly to local police. However, Saturday's shooting victims lived in a small section of Mountain View right next to Highway 101. Their cell 911 call went all the way to the CHP in Vallejo, which caused some confusion and a tragic delay.

Mountain View Police say shooting victim, Theresa Sanchez, called 911 on her cell phone from her house on Plymouth Street. However, she was so close to the freeway that the nearest cell tower transferred her desperate call for help to the CHP in Vallejo, instead of local police.

"She indicated she was in Mountain View. She indicated somebody was breaking into her home. She said twice the name of a street that was very hard to understand," said Liz Wylie with the Mountain View Police Department.

Wylie says Sanchez was whispering what sounded like Clemon Street. She may have been saying Plymouth Street.

The CHP tried to route the call to Mountain View Police, but the woman hung up. It was an hour later that police received reports of shots fired on Plymouth Street in Mountain View.

When Teresa Sanchez called from her home on Plymouth, about 200 yards west of Highway 101, the nearest cell tower near Shoreline Boulevard sensed the call was coming from the freeway. So the CHP got the call. If she had lived just a few more blocks west, she would have reached Mountain View's 911 center. That hour could have saved her brother's and her life.

Cameron Smith, manager of San Jose's 911 system, says that towers were installed and cells aimed by cell companies to deliver the best coverage to customers. Then 911 centers select cell sites best positioned to serve their needs.

"Not as far as where they are placed, but which ones get routed where we do. We sit down with the CHP and literally say, 'This cell section goes here, this one goes here,'" said Smith with the San Jose Police Department.

Smith says soon the state will install a new computer system which will make these towers create a buffer zone of 300 feet on either side of freeways. Outside the buffer, 911 calls will go to local police.

"The location will be known before it actually routes the call so it will determine, 'You're over here so you get that buffer zone so I'm going to route to the Highway Patrol because you're most likely on the freeway,'" said Smith.

Smith says that new technology is still a couple of years away. Mountain View police are still searching for leads in Saturday's killings and are asking for the public for help. After speaking to the family Tuesday morning, they said regardless of the cell phone glitch, someone killed their only son and daughter and nothing is going to change that.


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