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Mitchell man charged with wife’s suffocation death

Signal issues cause 911 problems

PLANKINTON - Vern Leftwich needed an ambulance badly on Father's Day.

His hemoglobin was so low that he was seeing double and almost passed out.

"I couldn't walk or anything without falling over," Leftwich said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic. "It was a scary situation."

But when his wife, Nancy, called 911, the line surprisingly rang busy.

It did that four times.

The line also rang busy for friends who tried to call.

She finally resorted to calling friends on the Plankinton Ambulance crew and got her husband to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.

Vern was OK, but the Leftwiches are worried that emergency calls won't work for others, and those callers may not be as lucky to know their local emergency medical technicians.

Apparently, the 911 circuits within Golden West Telecommunications' service to Plankinton were not working that day. After all companies involved checked on the problem, none knew exactly what happened.

According to Greg Oleson, director of member services and communications at Golden West, technicians searched Golden West's system for two and a half days to determine the cause of the issue.

"No alarm triggered our system that we had some down circuits," Oleson said.

Marlene Haines, communications supervisor for Mitchell Department of Public Safety, said the circuits at 911 dispatch didn't show any missed calls or issues with equipment.

After she called Golden West, Haines said the phone company had an issue. Both Haines and Oleson said Mitchell's 911 dispatch service was working properly.

Jody Sawzell, a network engineer for Golden West, said officials eventually narrowed the problem to an issue within the signalling network for the 911 circuit.

"We were having signaling issues between all the switches involved just in the Plankinton exchange, which serves the town of Plankinton and a surrounding rural area," Sawzell said.

Sawzell said they couldn't find what caused the signalling problem, so Golden West rerouted the 911 circuits to ensure they worked.

Golden West already had a plan to change several circuits for the Plankinton area, Oleson said. After making the change, the company tested the 911 circuit daily to make sure it's working.

Sawzell said he's never had an outage like this before, particularly without being able to find the root cause.

"We worked as hard and as smart as we could with other companies to resolve this," he said.

Golden West also works with CenturyLink and SDN Communications, both in Sioux Falls.

"We do this because Golden West doesn't serve Mitchell, so we need other carriers to get a 911 call to the Mitchell Public Safety Answering Point," Oleson said, referring to 911 communications.

To get an emergency call to 911 communications in Mitchell, SDN relays the signal to CenturyLink, which then sends the signal to Mitchell's 911 communications.

Carrie Aaman, a spokeswoman for CenturyLink, said the company checked on Golden West's issues in Plankinton. There were no blockages reported, or alarms, on CenturyLink's end, Aaman said.

"So whatever issue there was, it was not tied to CenturyLink," she said.

Vernon Brown, vice president of marketing and community relations at SDN, also couldn't find any indication of issues. However, he said since the circuit was fixed, Golden West has tested the 911 circuit for Plankinton daily to ensure calls are being completed.

"Golden West is being very proactive," Brown said. "The frustrating part is that there's no conclusive reason found for the outage."