A pair of Good Samaritans who stopped to help a young woman who had been assaulted are speaking out about their 911 calls that went unanswered for 90 minutes.
It all started when John Saunders parked at the Fit4Less gym at Edmonton’s Londonderry Mall around 5:25 a.m. on Wednesday.
He got out of his car and was heading into the gym when something caught his attention.
“I thought I heard a ‘help me’ cry,” he said. “I heard it one more time. I then yelled out, ‘Hello?’
“Then I heard her cry again, ‘Help! Help please!'”
The first aid instructor cautiously followed the voice up the stairs and around the corner of a wall separating the neighbourhood from the mall parking lot.
That’s where he found the contents of a purse scattered across a path and a young woman lying on the ground.
“Her whole leg was covered with blood,” Saunders said. “Her face, mouth and nose were very swollen and covered with blood. Her shirt had quite a bit of blood on it.”
He tried to ask some questions to determine what happened.
“She couldn’t tell me her name, she just kept saying she couldn’t move and she’d been jumped.”
Saunders said he decided to call 911 at 5:33 a.m.
“They told me they would dispatch an ambulance and police officer,” he said.
But minutes started ticking by and no first responders showed up, just other Good Samaritans, according to Saunders.
“I come out of the garage and there’s a lady laying on the ground and a fellow is trying to comfort her,” Gerry Semler said. “I stopped and asked if I could help. He said he’d phoned 911 and was waiting for the ambulance to come.”
The men thought maybe the ambulance was lost, so Semler and another gym member split up to try and find it and direct it down the alley. Saunders said he never left the woman’s side.
“I’m just trying to calm her down [and] get her to slow her breathing and keep her awake,” he said.
More than half an hour passed and the victim started vomiting, according to Saunders. Because the woman couldn’t feel her legs, he suspected she had suffered head or neck trauma and didn’t want to move her.
“I called 911 at 6:10 a.m. [and] they told me the same thing,” he said. “They can’t come because the police aren’t there — for the safety of their ambulance people.”
When Saunders explained he and others had been on scene for 40 minutes without incident, he said the dispatcher told him he could leave if he wanted.
“I felt like they were blowing me off,” he said.
“I don’t know how somebody could tell another individual to leave when you have a young lady laying in the middle of the road covered in blood, crying and asking for help. She’s claiming she can’t even move, so she can’t even help herself. I was furious.”
Over the span of an hour and a half, three different people called 911 six times, according to Semler. Finally, they gave up and took matters into their own hands.
“We decided we’d better go and contact the fire department,” Semler said. “They’re only five blocks away from here. I drove up there and told them the situation.”
The firefighters were on scene within just a few minutes.
“They immediately attended to her,” Saunders said. “They started treating her cuts, put blankets on her and started administering first aid.”
The woman was eventually taken to hospital for treatment. Saunders would later learn she was beaten with a metal pipe or bar and robbed by three people.
“How it takes an hour and a half of a lady laying on the road bleeding and pleading for assistance, I will never understand,” he said.
“It’s not acceptable, in my opinion,” Semler added.
Alberta Health Services told Global News its paramedics were just following procedures and waiting for police to deem the site safe.
But in a statement, an Edmonton Police Service spokesperson said the call was designated priority four on a scale of zero to nine, because it was an assault complaint and “the individual was deemed to not be in a life-threatening situation… with no suspects still in the area.”
Police said they got to the scene at 7:22 a.m., nearly one hour and 50 minutes after the initial 911 call was placed.
The statement said “1.5 hours is certainly not an optimal situation.”
It went on to explain that the “EPS experienced an inordinately high volume of calls Wednesday morning, with approximately 35 calls already on the board awaiting a police response.”
Semler said he understands being busy but feels the priority assigned to the case was wrong.
“They have to judge that, but when somebody is injured and has been hit over the head or whatever — that should be No. 1, regardless of how you look at it.”
Saunders agreed. He said in the past, he’s called 911 with no problems. He wants to know why the 911 dispatcher didn’t reassess the safety of the scene as more calls came in.
“There was two other people on scene after I was that called 911 regarding the same situation,” Saunders said. “I just don’t understand how even if the initial call was deemed a dangerous situation and staged assistance, how after another person [called] and another person after that – [how] they wouldn’t change the status of that call and say, ‘OK, it’s safe. Let’s dispatch the ambulance to go take care of this lady.’
“If I’m in danger or in need of assistance, it should be there as soon as possible.”
Saunders said when he saw the young woman, he thought of his daughter lying there, desperate for help.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Because it’s something that does not need to happen,” he said.
“I hope they straighten this mess out and it won’t happen again,” he said.
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