Charlotte Sheriff's Office 911 Center in center of Wrongful Death Trial

9:03 PM, Jul 19, 2012   |    comments
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Punta Gorda, Florida- Day four in the wrongful death case of Denise Amber Lee. 

She is the 21-year-old mother of two young boys abducted from her North Port home, raped and murdered in 2008. 

Her killer, Michael King, is on death row, and now Lee's family is suing the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office saying they could have prevented her death.

Lee's family claims the 911 dispatchers mishandled a call in which a motorist claims to spot Lee in her killer's car screaming for help.

The question now is who knew what, when? and what did they dowith the information?

It's information Lee's family says could have saved her life. 

Lee's attorney, Patrick Boyle, tries painting a picture to jurors of a 911 emergency center that experienced "incredible failures" the day of Lee's abduction.

"It was chaotic!" says Mildred Stepp, the former 911 call taker for the Charlotte County Sheriff's office about the working conditions on January 17 2008, the day Denise Amber Lee was abducted.

Stepp says, "I've got everybody hollering at me. Everyone is talking in loud voices. We had a supervisor trying to establish a radio frequency to North Port. Another dispatcher's radio is not working. Liz is trying to give verbal information that I thought I had given her. We had 50 -70 calls coming in and a shift change."

Stepp took one of those calls around 6:30 p.m. from motorist Jane Kowalski. She was heading to Fort Myers along US 41. 

Kowalski called 911 after she sawand heard what looked like a child screaming and banging on the window of the back seat of a dark colored Camaro.  

Stepp tells the jury, "I immediately associated the Denise Lee kidnapping."

Kowalski followed the car and told Stepp it was turning onto Toledo Blade Blvd off US 41.  

Stepp says, "It is a high priority call. There were red flags. I notified my supervisor and dispatcher."

Stepp notified two dispatchers and a supervisor verbally instead of following protocol and entering the information into the computer system. 

Stepp says, "My priority was to give the dispatcher the information and get a deputy to Denise Lee as soon as possible." Stepp says if she had entered the information into the computer first the dispatchers may have missed it.

Dispatcher Susan Kirby Kalestad says Stepp slowed down the process by not following procedures. Kalestad says, "Put a call in the computer, everyone sees it, the information goes out."

Dispatcher Susan Kirby Kalestad says as far as she knows, a deputy was not dispatched to the Toledo Blade Us 41 area. 

But the sheriff's attorney, Bruce Jolly, says during Stepp's nine-minute phone call with the motorist, Kowalski a bolo to all deputies did go out. 

The Bolo advised all deputies listening about a missing female who may be in a dark green Camaro. The Bolo said to look out for the Camaro from the Toledo Blade and US 41 area to the North Port Border.

"Everybody in the vicinity is supposed to be looking for this car. Isn't that the intent of that?" Jolly says to Kalestad while he's cross examining her on the stand. She replies, "The intent is they are looking for a green Camaro."

Deputies found Lee's body on the morning of January 19 buried in a shallow grave. She had been shot in the head. Lee's family is seeking $750,000 dollars in damages from the Charlotte Sheriff's Office.


Isabel Mascarenas

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