Tragic end as US teen makes frantic 911 calls, is crushed to death in a minivan

The Washington Post

A poor connection and lack of vital information about the student's situation led to a fatal accident

The Washington Post |

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When Kyle Plush called 911, he knew his situation was dire.

The 16-year-old student did not say what had happened to him when he apparently used an automated assistant on his smartphone to make the call on Tuesday outside Seven Hills School in the American city of Cincinnati. He said only that he was trapped in his minivan and could not hear them - no doubt hoping they could still hear his cries for help.

“Help, help, help, help,” he told the dispatcher, according to 911 audio obtained by The Washington Post. Then he let out a scream: “Help!”

The teen, who seemed to be struggling to breathe, repeatedly asked for the police - briefly pausing between each word to try to catch his breath.

The dispatcher repeatedly asked him where he was.

“I can’t hear you,” he said. Distant banging could be heard in the background. “I’m in desperate need of help. I’m going to die here.”

“Help ...,” he said once more, and then the call abruptly ended.

Five minutes later, at 3.21 pm, police responded and searched the area near the private school on Red Bank Road but did not see the caller, according to a statement from the Cincinnati Police Department.

In a conversation between the dispatcher and a deputy, the dispatcher said it had been difficult to hear the caller, saying he sounded “kind of far away from the phone”. The dispatcher said she could hear banging in the background and someone saying, “Help, help, I’m stuck”. The authorities then discussed whether the 911 call might have been a prank.

Nearly six hours later, Kyle’s father found him unconscious in the vehicle, police said. First responders rushed to the scene but could not revive him, and he was later pronounced dead.

“Horrific, horrific situation to come across as a parent,” Cincinnati Police spokesman Lt Steve Saunders said last Thursday in a phone interview.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that a police source said Kyle had climbed onto the back seat of the family’s 2002 Honda Odyssey minivan. He was trying to reach his tennis equipment, when the seat “flipped up and over toward the back hatch, pinning him upside down beneath the seat.”

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office said in a statement that first results showed that Kyle died of “asphyxia due to chest compression”.

“This was a horrific tragedy. What I say is that we share in their heartbreak around this,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said during an afternoon news conference. “Police officers, firefighters and even our emergency dispatch personnel - you get into this because you want to help. Something went wrong here, and we need to find out why we weren’t able to provide that help that we hoped we could have.”

Following Kyle’s frantic call for help Tuesday afternoon, a dispatcher tried to call him back - but the teen, who was apparently trapped inside his vehicle, was not able to answer his phone.

As heard in the 911 audio, Kyle’s phone rang and rang, then the call went to his voice mail: “Hello, this is Kyle. I’m not available right now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Then, at some point, Kyle called the police a second time.

During that call, which lasted several minutes, he sounded weaker and something could be heard creaking in the background as he took breaths. He told the dispatcher to pass along a message for him after he died.

“I probably don’t have much time left, so tell my mom that I love her if I die,” he said. “This is not a joke. This is not a joke. I’m trapped inside my gold Honda Odyssey van in the sophomore parking lot of Seven Hills [unintelligible]. Send officers immediately. I’m almost dead.”

“Can you hear me?” the teen asked.

“Hey Siri,” he prompted his phone.

“Hey Siri.

“Hey Siri.

“Hey Siri.

“Hey Siri.”

But his pleas went unanswered.

Authorities said responding officers, who were on the scene at the time, never received the detailed information from Kyle’s second 911 call. The dispatcher who took that call, identified as Amber Smith, has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, police said.

Authorities said that a classmate called Kyle’s parents late on Tuesday, saying Kyle had not shown up for a scheduled tennis match.

Kyle’s parents then used an app to track his cellphone and called the police, reporting that their son was missing, police said.

Just before 9pm, a passerby also called authorities from the school, saying a man was running around the parking lot, screaming, “Call 911.” The caller said he could hear “loud bangs” and could see cars parked and people walking around, according to the police audio.

Then another caller, who identified himself as a night shift worker at the school, called police to report that Kyle, who was unresponsive, was trapped in the van - “turned over in his seat and stuck”.

“He’s been there for a while,” he said.

Isaac, the police chief, told reporters that upon arrival, responding officers found Kyle in the van, “not breathing and unresponsive”. First responders were not able to revive him, Isaac said.

In November, second-row seats in certain Honda Odyssey minivans were recalled because they were not locking in place, though it is unclear what exactly happened regarding Kyle’s fatal injury.

Editor’s note to readers: When making a distress call, tell people where you are, or where you think you are, first, because if emergency responders can’t find you, they can’t help you. While you are giving other details to police, other responders can then already be on their way. 

If you're thinking of studying overseas, you need to know how to take care of yourself. Young Post is hosting the International Student Safety Seminar on Saturday, April 21. Head to our Facebook events page find out more.