Dispatcher: ‘Then I went home. That's when I cried'
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.
Amid the chaos and confusion of the Sunday morning crashes on Interstate 75 was the calm, reassuring voice of a teenager coming from the Combined Communications Center.
A recording of a 911 call, released by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, demonstrates the composure that 19-year-old rookie call-taker Leslie Edvalson showed as the horrific incident unfolded.
Edvalson answered one of the first calls made to 911 about the crashes that began around 4 a.m. as the freeway was shrouded in smoke and fog. For nearly 13 minutes, she listened and encouraged two or three women who took turns talking on the cellphone to describe what they could hear from their vantage point in the dark.
As the call continued, Edvalson heard what sounded similar to gunshots but were actually vehicle crashes happening ahead of, behind and beside the women.
"At first when they called, I thought it wouldn't be a big incident because I thought I-75 was still closed," Edvalson told The Sun on Tuesday. The women had told her their car hit a guard rail and they had no significant injuries, but they could not see anything because of the smoke.
Based on her six months of training and seven months of experience, Edvalson thought the women would be safest remaining in their vehicle.
Then, as the crashes could be heard happening around them — probably once every minute or so — Edvalson realized the women might be safer getting out of their vehicle.
"The worst part about it was being so helpless," Edvalson said. "I was the one who needed to tell them what to do, but they would be in danger no matter what I told them to do. There was no safe place to send them."
Throughout it all, Edvalson remained calm, reminding the women that help was on the way and encouraging them to provide as many details as they could. Those details allowed others inside the 911 center to determine what types of crews to send to the scene and what to tell the emergency workers to expect when they got there.
It was the second grueling call of the overnight shift for Edvalson. She also took a call a couple of hours earlier from a person in an SUV that became entrapped under a semi truck on I-75.
"I was OK during the calls," Edvalson said. "I think that was because the training is amazing for this job."
She also credited the women on the other end of the line during the call.
"I was so impressed how well they kept it together while this was all happening around them, and they didn't hang up the phone," Edvalson said. "Sometimes people will just panic and hang up."
The identities of the callers had not been released by authorities on Tuesday.
The stress debriefing at the end of Edvalson's shift on Sunday morning was also helpful.
"We sat in a circle and everybody got to say what they went through," Edvalson said. "Then, I went home. That's when I cried."
Edvalson has no plans to make a career out of helping people in crisis. She really wants to go into musical education, but for now she is happy she followed the footsteps of an older sister and brother.
Big sister Sarah Boyett spent eight years working in the communications center. Big brother Dallin Edvalson has been employed by the center for two to three years.
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