Police investigating fatal house fire

August 19, 2009 7:40:04 PM PDT
Durham authorities are investigating a house fire that killed an elderly man at his home on Shantercliff Place, just north of I-85 Monday evening.The fire happened in the Heather Glen sub-division of northern Durham.

Authorities are trying to figure out why a 911 operator was confused about the location of the fire and why there was a delay in getting firefighters to the right house in Durham.

In the 911 call, the operator had trouble hearing the woman who made the call for help.

She spelled the name of the street several times, even said her own address, hoping the operator would pick up an automated address from her landline call.

  • 911: "115 is not coming up."
  • Caller: "115 Shanterliff Place is in Durham."
  • 911: "C-h-a-n-t-i-c-l-e-e-r?"
  • Caller: "S-h-a-n-t-e-r-c-l-i-f-f" (becomes garbled)
  • 911: "C-h-a-n-t-e-r..."
  • Caller: "C-l-i-f-f."
  • 911: "Chanticleer?" (garbled)
Click here to listen to the full 911 call

Firefighters from one volunteer department were sent to Chanticleer, not Shantercliff - more than six minutes after the first call came in.

It took another six minutes for firefighters from a different department to be re-routed to the correct address.

The mix-up sent firefighters to the wrong street 19 miles from a deadly fire. Durham officials won't elaborate on the mix-up until their investigation is complete.

Durham 911 officials said the dispatcher involved was a full-time employee with almost three years of experience.

The 911 caller's husband said their address didn't come automatically when they called.

"It's a tough street, confusing neighborhood, I think the address would have flashed up like it was supposed to do our situation could have been different," Mark Brueckner said.

After firefighters put out the blaze, they discovered the body of 74-year-old Marvin Jacobs inside the home near a kitchen door.

Sheriff investigators are investigating Jacobs's death and said it is routine, but they are not ready to rule anything out.

They said they thought Jacobs may have tried to escape his burning home. Neighbors said he had been outside just before the blaze started.

"We spoke with some neighbors who saw him he had on clothing like coveralls," said Det. Stanley Harris with the Durham County Sheriff's Department. "He was working on a vehicle outside his residence prior to the fire."

Arson investigators were back at the home late Tuesday afternoon and said they could not find an obvious sign of what caused the fire.

"We're doing an investigation trying to rule out any foul play or any forms of arson, or anything criminal," Harris said.

Sheriff detectives said they will know a lot more about the case when they get a report back from the medical examiner.


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