A 25-year-old woman died Sunday night in Robeson County, presumably from drowning, when her car plunged into a creek and rescuers could not reach her in time.
Following the death of Yessica Rodriguez, a resident of White Oak, this newspaper received information that the 911 communications center at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office might have failed in its duty — a message we were not eager to receive, but it required us to ask some hard questions.
We called Charles Britt, the assistant county manager and director of Robeson County Emergency Services, who launched his own investigation and quickly volunteered to provide the audiotape of the 911 call — an offer that was extended before Britt himself had a chance to know what the tape revealed.
The videotape was emailed to this newspaper within hours. The audiotape makes clear the confusion — and frustration — among those who were trying to save Rodriquez’s life.
The first call received by the Sheriff’s Office was about a missing person, not someone in danger of drowning, and details were agonizingly absent. Rodriguez had left a mobile home park east of Lumberton on N.C. 41 and never arrived at her Tar Heel destination.
The Highway Patrol was contacted, and troopers looked in the area of N.C. 41 and N.C. 87 near the Bladen County for an accident, but none was found. Making the search more complicated was jurisdiction, whether Rodriquez was missing in Bladen County or Robeson County, and who should be leading the search.
And so it went — until information was received, apparently in Bladen County, that Rodriquez had called someone and said she had wrecked, and water was in the vehicle. By that time, Bladen County had rescuers on the way, and Robeson County was offering to send some as well.
But it was too late.
We wish that the ending to this story had been different, but true 911 situations will always be challenging; in this case, the absence of a location was just too much to overcome. Even if rescuers had immediately known the victim’s location and been nearby, it would have been a challenge to pull her from the vehicle in time.
We learned this while listening to that audiotape: There are a lot of professional, dedicated and skilled people in Robeson County — dispatchers, deputies, paramedics, highway patrolmen to name just a few — and while they aren’t perfect, they stand ready to answer our 911 no matter the hour, giving us our best shot of mitigating or sidestepping tragedy.