BROOKSVILLE — Within an hour of the chaotic 911 call from a woman reporting that one of her brothers had killed another brother and buried him in the family's yard, the dispatcher with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office was counseled on how she handled the situation, officials said Wednesday.
Jessica Vore, a veteran dispatcher for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, has received the lowest level of disciplinary action for her handling of the call that came in Monday, said Chief Bill Kicklighter, director of communications.
"We immediately had some concerns about the order in which she was handling things," Kicklighter said.
The sister said Stanley Eckard, 21, had killed 19-year-old Sean Eckard and buried him in the yard of the Eckards' home on Peoria Street in Spring Hill. The father, Sam Eckard, had just unearthed the body, the sister told the dispatcher.
"He is digging him out of the ground," she said in a cracking voice. "Oh, my God. He's screaming. He's over the body."
The sister, whose identity has not been released or independently confirmed, was clearly distraught, shouting into a cell phone to other people in the house, who were shouting back.
About 60 seconds of the seven-minute call was redacted from the version released to the media to comply with the law that requires the protection of the caller's identity. During those seconds, Vore asks the woman to verify the address, Kicklighter said.
Vore did that correctly and the response time was not affected, Kicklighter said. But then Vore started to ask questions about what happened between the brothers.
"I need to find out what's going on at this house before I send anybody there," Vore said at one point.
The answers to those questions would likely be valuable in an ensuing investigation, Kicklighter said, but Vore should have made it clear that deputies were already responding. She did so about four minutes into the call.
"It would have been helpful if she said that a lot sooner," Kicklighter said. "After she obtained the address, she should have told the caller that we have units on the way. That typically will calm a caller down. We don't delay the response to ask questions. It sounds like to the average listener we're not doing anything until we get these questions answered."
Vore also seemed to grow impatient and brusque with the caller as she struggled to understand what the woman was saying. She was counseled to modulate her voice to communicate more compassion during a chaotic situation, Kicklighter said.
"You don't hear that come out as much in the beginning, but she's human, and her goal is try to find out what's going on," he said.
Vore asked the caller to repeat information, such as the names of the brothers, several times. The sister was talking loudly and into the cell phone, causing some distortion, but officials also replaced Vore's headset as a precaution, Kicklighter said. He also noted that tapes of a call are typically clearer than the call itself.
Kicklighter noted that the information Vore was getting in this call was unlike the hundreds of others she takes each year.
"Your brain doesn't expect to hear the pieces you're hearing," he said.
"When you watch a movie for the second time you always see or hear things you didn't catch the first time because you know the story, and we know that's the case when we Monday-morning quarterback a call-taker. That doesn't deny the fact that we think she should have handled it better."
A copy of the post-call employee interview report will be placed in Vore's personnel file. If she receives no more action within a year, the document will be purged from the file, Kicklighter said.
"It's more focused on counseling than discipline," he said.
Vore has been a dispatcher with the Sheriff's Office since 1995 and has handled "thousands of calls" in her career, Kicklighter said. He described her as an employee in good standing without any major blemishes.
Vore was suspended without pay in 2007 after she accidentally muted the speakers on her computer while looking at photos from a Sheriff's Office party. In the process, she also muted the 911 alert tone and as she looked at the photos, an emergency call came in, Kicklighter said. Vore recognized the error, tried to contact the caller and then reported the incident to a supervisor, he said.
"She is a very conscientious employee, and she beats herself up more than we or the media ever could," Kicklighter said. "She's the type of employee that takes it to heart."
Vore did not immediately respond to a request through Kicklighter for comment.
Stanley Eckard has been charged with second-degree murder.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.