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For the week of Dec. 8, 1999 through Dec. 14, 1999

Unanswered 911 call spawns disbelief, tests

Express Staff Writer

At about 11 a.m. on Oct. 27, Luanne Evans smelled gas while she was working as a house cleaner at 101 Sunrise Dr. in Elkhorn. She knew that a tree-removal truck working outside the house had inadvertently cut a gas line. When the smell got bad enough, she said in a written police statement, she dialed 911 from her cell phone.

Nobody answered.

Evans, 61, said she hung up after six or seven rings, and then, the gas smell getting worse, she dialed 911 again about 20 minutes later. The phone rang three or four times, she said, before a gas company technician knocked on the door and she again hung up.

Evans said she stopped trying to call 911 because the gas man told her "everything would be okay."

Less than 15 minutes later, the house next door exploded, severely injuring the gas man and causing an estimated $1.6 million dollars in damage.

Representatives from Blaine County and Ketchum emergency services dispatches deny ever receiving a call from Evans, and log books from that day confirm their claims.

Both dispatches, however, were flooded with calls around 11:30 a.m., just after the home exploded.

Representatives from U.S. Cellular, the cell phone service Evans subscribes to, and Ketchum dispatch supervisor Ruth Maxwell say a 911 call dialed from a cell phone in Sunrise would have been picked up by a cellular tower located near the top of Dollar Mountain, and then relayed to Ketchum dispatch.

"The only thing I can think of," Maxwell said, "is that perhaps she misdialed."

Maxwell said she was working in the dispatch room that day with one other person and that one of them was in the room at all times.

Maxwell said there are at least two pieces of electronic equipment in the dispatch room that would have recorded the call, whether it was answered or not.

Given there were no other emergency calls at the time, Maxwell said, Evan’s call would have been answered before the second ring.

Evans, however, who gets her cellular service from a U.S. Cellular office in Twin Falls, said, "I wasn’t so excited that I didn’t know what I was dialing—because nothing had happened yet."

Evans said she has dialed 911 from the cell phone four or five times in the past and never had a problem connecting.

On Monday, Paul Lubbee, network operations manager for U.S. Cellular, said his company has a record of Evan’s cell phone activity that day, including any calls that were placed but not answered. However, he said, that information is "not something we can give out," because "it gets into legal issues."

Monday afternoon, after the Idaho Mountain Express talked to Lubbee, a U.S. Cellular technician conducted a test of the 911 system from the explosion site without experiencing any problems, according to Maxwell.

Maxwell said U.S. West, the telephone company that provides traditional land-line service, also has no record of Evan’s placing the 911 call. That news isolates the problem to either the U.S. Cellular system or to Evan’s use of the phone.

Both Evans and Maxwell said they are willing to conduct another test using Evan’s personal cell phone.

Whether U.S. Cellular will release the records of Evan’s cell phone activity on Oct. 27 is up to the company’s legal department in Chicago.


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.