Monday, August 07, 2006

Holladay Modifies Her Account Of Tolbert's Death Again

Former Star columnist Ruth Holladay told a shocking story surrounding the circumstances of the late Star photographer Mpozi Tolbert's death after developing breathing problems in the newsroom. Holladay charged that Tolbert died because he "was a victim of an inept, profit-driven, cheap, small-minded company." She added, "Gannett, with all its goody-two-shoes emphasis on ethics right down to its practice of hassling employees to ensure that everyone's driver's license is up to date, car insurance in place, etc., has, or had, a setup in the newsroom which DOES NOT ALLOW REPORTERS OR EDITORS TO CALL OUT ON 911."

In Holladay's initial post on her blog site, she asserted that Tolbert collapsed shortly after he arrived in the newroom about 6:00 p.m., and that a 911 call was not placed until 6:25 p.m. After commenters raised questions about the time he collapsed, she modified her original timeline to specify the time of his collapse as 6:10 p.m. Someone in the newsroom insisted to me after Holladay's first post appeared that she was way off on her timeline.

After the Star's Executive Editor Dennis Ryerson took Holladay to task about her assertion that reporters and editors could not dial out on 911, she once again modified her original account. A Star official told Editor & Publisher that "[a]ny Star employee can call 911 from Star phones. In fact, employees and our security staff used Star phones to make calls that night." Holladay later reported: "Reporters and editors were frantically trying to dial 911, but they didn't know they had to get an outside line first. That's why some had to resort to cell phones."

Recently Holladay posted another update, along with the transcript of the 911 call. She notes that the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency (MECA) logged the 911 call at 6:18:21, or about 7 minutes earlier than she originally reported. But she's still asking, "What happened in those eight minutes or so?" How certain is she that it in fact was 8 minutes? How can she say with certainty that it was 6:10 when Tolbert collapsed, particularly when at least one other person in the newsroom that night tells AI that the time from when Tolbert collapsed to the time the 911 call was placed was a very short period of time.

On the emergency worker's response time Holladay reports:

The firefighers were dispatched from Firehouse No. 7, just blocks away on Mass Ave. They arrived -- in front -- at 6:21:06. They were in the building by 6:22:13 and they left at 6:36:12 for Wishard. He was pronounced dead at 6:56 p.m. at the hospital.

Holladay complains that a firefighter told her that they had difficulty locating an entrance door that was not locked, although the timeline she gives shows it took only about a minute after their arrival to get into the building, and they left with Tolbert for the hospital 14 minutes later. A firefighter confirmed that the first freight elevator they attempted to use was blocked.

The transcript Holladay posts on her side has the 911 operator walking the caller through the steps to assist Tolbert until the emergency workers arrived. The caller suggested Tolbert might be suffering from a food-related allergy. Upon being told that he was breathing, but with difficulty, the 911 operator tells the caller:

Roll him over to his left side and I want you to keep him there and have someone stay with him. Just monitor his breathing until we get there, OK?"""Monitor his breathing until they get here, OK?""OK.""And we have someone on the way."

According to the timeline, emergency workers did not take Tolbert to the hospital until 14 minutes after they arrived. It is not clear at all why Holladay lays the blame on the Star for the amount of time it took emergency workers to take him to the hospital. It's also not clear that her legitimate complaint that the Star didn't have a defribilator would have made any difference in Tolbert's case. Epinephrine is what is typically administed to counter a food allergy reaction. I don't know that a defibrilator would have even made a difference in Tolbert's instance. No word on what the coroner concluded was his cause of death.


Doug said...

I'm just wondering what the actual deal is with the Star's phones and 911. Are there any oddities or can you pick up any phone in the building and dial 911? Or is it a little trickier and you have to hit "9" to get an outside line? Or is there a bigger wrinkle than that?

This seems like a pretty objective piece of information that should be easy to obtain and confirm. Maybe it's already been reported and I didn't notice because I've only half been paying attention.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Doug--that was one of Ruth's earlier corrections. She originally said the editors and writers couldn't make 911 calls from the newsroom. She later corrected it to say their phone system required the workers to dial 9 to get an outside line before placing the 911 call.

LPerdue said...

Oh, I find it hard to believe that employees of the Star don't know to dial 9 to get an outside line. Duh...

What's the time frame between her post and when she resigned?

Anonymous said...

Prior to Mr. Tolbert's death, it was a company policy NOT to dial 911. It was a contraversial policy as well, I attended management training at the Star and it was questioned but the Building Management felt that it was the appropriate thing to do.

There were some reasons:
1. There is only one elevator in the building that a gurney could fit in. That is only accessible through the rear employee entrance.
2. By leaving it to security to call, they could open gates and give the emergency personnel directions to the rear entrance.

It was not a matter of calling 911 or dialing 9... that's not something that an employee is going to take a 'test run' at. The policy was the policy, period.

The policy has since been revised, leaving the question of whether it was a policy worth having in the first place. Ruth's tenacity at trying to get to the truth should be rewarded. If it were not her prior employer and not the newspaper, would we really be grilling her? I think not.

Additionally, Ruth has posted responses and facts as she's been finding them out. I didn't feel her initial blog was fair to the good staff at The Star, either. But I commend her in trying to ensure Mr. Tolbert's death was not in vane.


Good Guy said...

Good info.

Herbal Man