Morgan County woman dies after 911 dispatchers can't find her exact location

WAAY 31 uncovered the reason why first responders couldn’t find her, and it’s a warning to anyone calling 911 from their cell phone.

Posted: Nov 22, 2021 4:40 PM
Updated: Nov 22, 2021 8:28 PM

A long-time Morgan County volunteer firefighter dialed 911, begging for help. She couldn’t breathe.

But first responders couldn't find her location, and hours later, her family discovered her dead inside her home.

Donna Kinney

This is the home where Donna Kinney was found after she called 911, struggling to breathe. She couldn't respond to tell dispatchers her address, and first responders were unable to get an exact location from cell phone pinging. She was found dead hours af

A review of call logs from that morning shows deputies could not make contact with Donna Kinney because limitations in cell-phone pinging technology prevented them from getting a precise location. It's a warning for anyone trying to call 911 from their cell phone.

Kinney had served the community for decades as a founding member and 35-year veteran of the Rock Creek Volunteer Fire Department. She was also involved in the Morgan County Honor Guard detail.

Her family wants to find out what else could have been done to save her.

“Sometimes, calls are unfortunate," said Jeanie Pharis, director of Morgan County 911. "They don’t turn out the way we want them to."

When Kinney called 911 on Nov. 12, cell phone pinging technology brought deputies within a few house of where Kinney was, but they couldn't find her exact location. Pharis said the accuracy varies wildly, sometimes up to 1,000 feet from the location, depending on the wireless company.

WAAY 31 learned a Morgan County deputy who responded to the area where the cell phone was pinging knocked on doors but did not go inside the home Kinney called from. After being on the phone for more than 20 minutes, not hearing anything and trying to text the phone with no response, 911 disconnected the call with Kinney.

The next 911 call from that area was Kinney's family, calling to report they had discovered her, dead inside the house.

Pharis said 911 centers are only now catching up to the technology that allows for more exact location information. The same level of location-based service that allows an Uber driver to arrive within a few feet of your location is not available to all 911 dispatchers, and it varies between each cell phone carrier and type of phone.

Pharis said about 80 percent of 911 calls are made on cellphones, so having the exact location is pivotal.

Kinney’s family and friends, who called the WAAY 31 newsroom asking for us to investigate, still want to know why responding deputies did not do more to try to locate her. They are considering legal action.

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