Parents of boy who suffocated in car can sue cops, 911 dispatchers

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The parents of a 16-year-old Cincinnati boy who died after getting trapped in a minivan despite making several desperate calls to 911 will be allowed to continue their wrongful death lawsuit, according to a report.

Kyle Plush died in April 2018 after becoming trapped by a bench seat in the back of his minivan, which was parked in his school’s parking lot. His cause of death was asphyxia from his chest being compressed.

In his first called to 911, he told the operator, Stephanie Magee, that he was in “desperate need of help.”

He couldn’t hear the dispatcher’s questions and a callback to his phone after it disconnected went straight to voicemail, police have said.

Officers drove through the area searching for anyone in distress but couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary.

The police review found that Magee erred by failing to tell the cops that there was banging and screaming in the background of Plush’s call — indicating that the situation was dire.

Kyle’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against police, call-takers and the former city manager involved in the incident – and the case will go to trial, despite the city’s effort to have it dismissed, WCPO reported.

The Ohio First District Court of Appeals has ruled that the defendants — former city manager Harry Black, call-takers Magee and Amber Smith, and officers Edsel Osborn and Brian Brazile — had demonstrated neglect, recklessness and indifference, according to the outlet.

Kyle, who was unusually small for his age, was taking items out of the vehicle when he became trapped in the third-row bench seat. A mechanism in the seats pressed against his chest until he suffocated and died.  

Trapped Student Death

The minivan that Kyle Plush died in, is removed from the parking lot near the Seven Hills School.

AP

Trapped Student Death

Trapped Student Death

Cincinnati police investigate the scene where Kyle Plush was found dead in a minivan.

AP

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He used the Siri virtual assistant on his out-of-reach iPhone to make two calls to 911 in which he described his van and said he believed his life was in danger.

In both, the dispatchers made critical errors, according to WCPO.

Magee, who labeled the call “unknown trouble,” sent two officers to the scene using a computer-aided dispatch system — but did not tell them about the boy’s fears for his life or information about the van.

The two cops drove to the scene but never left their patrol car and did not perform a thorough search of nearby parking lots. In video from their vehicle, they also speculated the call may have been a prank.

The other call-taker, Smith, received Kyle’s second call while the officers were still at the school, according to the news outlet.

She activated a teletypewriter connection meant for callers who are hard of hearing, causing the volume to be lowered drastically, and she did not clearly hear the boy.

Kyle PlushKyle PlushFamily handout

Black, the former city manager, was not directly involved in the incident but had previously expressed knowledge of the 911 call center’s myriad problems, including poor training and unreliable technology, WCPO reported.

The court ruled that he also could be held accountable for “wanton or reckless actions” because improvements to the system could have possible made a difference in the tragedy.

“We are eager to return to the trial court, conclude discovery and try this case,” the family’s attorney Al Gerhardstein said Wednesday. “We want the call for justice on behalf of Kyle to be heard by all those in power including the Mayor, City Manager and all those on City Council.”

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