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Hotel death prompts petition to allow 911 direct dialing

Jan. 10, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2014 at 7:10 p.m.

How do Victoria hotels handle the situation?

ADVOCATE STAFF REPORTNews of a death related to a young girl unable to dial 911 because of a dialing error had some Victoria hotel managers thinking about something for the first time.

At least two hotels the Advocate contacted Friday - America's Best Value Inn and La Quinta - have directions on their telephones to dial "9" before dialing a phone number.

Still, the idea of a child doing what she was taught to do and having her mother die really hit home for Heather Rocha, a mother of two children who is a front desk manager at La Quinta Inn in Victoria.

"We travel every weekend, and now, thinking about something like that, I'd probably be in the same situation," Rocha said.

La Quinta's phones have clear instructions on dialing out, she said, but now, she worries for herself and needing to teach her children how to dial 911 at a hotel.

Keith Totah, manager of America's Best Value Inn on Houston Highway in Victoria, agrees with a petition asking for the 9 to be dropped when calling out.

The way the system works, as he understands it, is that all rooms are using one main line, which is why dialing 9 is necessary, he said.

"I definitely agree with that (the petition)," he said. "It caused a death."

DALLAS (AP) - Hank Hunt's granddaughter tried calling 911 from the East Texas hotel room where she could hear her mother dying, just as she was taught to do in an emergency. She didn't know she had to dial 9 on the hotel phone first.

"Papa," Hunt remembers the 9-year-old telling him later. "I tried, but it wouldn't work."

Now, Hunt has launched a national push to require hotels and other businesses to do away with dialing anything before calling 911. So far, an online petition for a federal law has gotten 390,000 signatures, and one 911 advocacy group says Hunt has hit on a perhaps underdocumented issue.

"I never dreamed that it would take a life of its own like this," Hunt said this week. "There's been a lot of good people out there helping us."

Hunt's petition calls for "Kari's Law," in honor of his daughter, Kari Hunt Dunn, who was stabbed to death inside a Baymont Inn hotel, allegedly by her estranged husband. The law as described by the petition would require hotels and motels to upgrade to "Enhanced 911" systems that would let guests call for help just by dialing 911 and giving the operator the caller's exact location.

The National Emergency Number Association, a group representing 911 call takers and industry professionals, says such changes are long overdue. Government affairs director Trey Forgety said the association did not know exactly how many callers try to dial 911 and fail. But officials hear "with some regularity" from member law enforcement agencies about callers who couldn't get through, he said.

"If it makes it onto our radar a few times a year, then it does sort of beg the question: How many identical situations are out there that we just don't hear about?" Forgety said.

Police in Marshall, about 150 miles east of Dallas, say Brad Dunn entered a room in the Baymont Inn where Kari Dunn and their three children were inside. Hunt said Brad Dunn took his estranged wife into the bathroom, leaving the children outside.

Detective Sonya Johnson said that as Brad Dunn began stabbing Kari Dunn, their eldest daughter tried to call for help. Four times, Hunt said, she dialed 911. Each time, it came up with static. Hunt said the children eventually ran into the hallway and found someone in a nearby room to call 911.

Brad Dunn would flee with their younger daughter and was arrested in a neighboring county. He's now accused of murder and being held on $5 million bond. His attorney, Scott Rectenwald, declined to comment.

Hunt and Johnson could not say how much extra time it took to call 911 or whether that time could have saved Kari's life.

There were no immediate figures available on how many hotels require guests to dial 9 to make outside calls. Wyndham Hotel Group, which owns the Baymont Inn brand, said in a statement it was "looking into the issues that have been raised in the petition" but declined to say how many of its hotels require guests to dial 9.

Hotel experts say an industrywide change could be made without a national law.



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