Lawsuit filed against 911 dispatches in DUI death
A Mascoutah man is suing St. Clair County dispatchers because he says they refused to send police out to intercept his wife to stop her from driving while drunk.
Larry Schultz called 911 twice, pleading that police be sent to intercept his wife when she left in her car, according to his lawsuit. The suit alleges that 911 dispatchers "failed and refused" to contact police after Schultz's phone calls, and that their refusal to do so resulted in his wife, Laurene Schultz, dying in a car accident.
"We rely on 911," said Rhonda Fiss, Schultz's attorney. "We assume that when we call 911, that something is going to be effectively done to protect us. That reliance, they have to live up to that ... In this case, the dispatcher failed. It was so easy to do what he needed to do."
"This poor man should not have lost his wife," Fiss added.
St. Clair State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, whose office represents the county in legal matters, said he could not comment outside of the county's formal response to the lawsuit. The response had not been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 29.
Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Association, directed questions to Kelly.
On Oct. 22, 2017, Laurene Schultz was driving drunk when she had stopped at a convenience store, according to the lawsuit. That's when Larry Schultz called the county's CENCOM dispatch center to see if they could intercept her.
"Hi, I'd like to report a drunk driver in Mascoutah," Schultz said, according to an audio recording of the call received through a FOIA request by the BND. He told the dispatcher that the drunk driver was parked at the Han-Dee-Mart across from MotoMart.
"OK, and what makes you think that they're drunk?" the dispatcher asked.
"Because it's my wife, and she's (expletive)-faced drunk. I went out to get something to eat, I come back and she's driving," Schultz said.
The dispatcher asked for the address of the Han-Dee-Mart, and Schultz said he didn't know, but said it was right across from the MotoMart on Illinois 4. He told the dispatcher that Mascoutah Police would know where it was. The dispatcher asked for Schultz's name, his wife's name, his phone number and the color, make and model of her car.
"Is she the only one in it, sir?" the dispatcher asked.
Schultz said yes.
"OK, and it's parked at the Han-Dee-Mart in the parking lot?"
Again, Schultz said yes.
"Alright, we'll try to get someone out there," the dispatcher said.
Schultz thanked him, then the recording ended.
In the lawsuit, Schutz alleges he told police his wife was at All-Mart, and police were dispatched to Han-Dee-Mart instead. However, the 911 audio recordings show he twice told the dispatcher his wife was at Han-Dee-Mart. Fiss said she had not yet listened to the audio recordings of the 911 calls.
In a second call, Schultz told dispatchers his wife was at Sax Speedi-Chek, and was swerving in her car.
"Sir, they're not going to drive all over the city," the dispatcher said.
"She's at Sax Han-Dee-Mart," Schultz said.
"She's not at the Han-Dee-Mart, sir," the dispatcher said.
"No, she's at Sax Convenient Mart," Schultz said.
"Is she at the Han-Dee-Mart or Sax, which one is it?
"Sax, she's at Sax," Schultz said.
"Where is that?" asked the dispatcher.
Schultz said it was by the high school, and when the dispatcher said he needed an address, all Schultz could give him was that it was on State Street. The dispatcher again asked for an address, and when Schultz couldn't give it to him, the dispatcher asked him to look it up and call him back.
911 records show that Schultz did not call back after that.
He said in the lawsuit that dispatchers refused to send police to Sax Speedi-Chek, but Schultz never called back to clarify the address with dispatchers.
But Fiss said Schultz shouldn't have had to provide an exact address for police to be dispatched.
"Everyone knows where that is, if you know anything about Mascoutah," she said. "They basically told him, 'If you don't have an address for us, we're not going to dispatch it' ... It seemed like they weren't wanting to mess with it."
Laurene Schultz drove away from Sax Speedi-Chek and onto the highway, then was killed when her vehicle crashed.