Nathan Lee knows a day will come when he will have to tell his two young sons what happened to their mother. He’ll tell them about how she was kidnapped, tied up and thrown in the back of a car, managed to call police and got another motorist to call 911 with the exact location of the car transporting her to a brutal death.
And then Lee will have to tell the boys, 2 and 8 months, that the 911 operators didn’t pass on vital information to patrol officers, possibly erasing their mom’s last hope at being rescued. It’s a heartrending task he doesn’t want anybody else to have to face.
“Someday I’m going to have to tell our little boys, who have very few memories, if any, of their amazingly courageous and brave mommy. I will have to tell them that she died needlessly,” Lee told NBC News.
“I want to make sure that somebody else doesn’t have to tell their kids that their mom could have been saved if the proper training was put in place. That’s what my goal is,” Lee told TODAY’s Matt Lauer from Venice, Fla., on Friday.
Lee and his attorney, Thomas Marryott, have announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department in Florida claiming that the 911 call center’s alleged negligence contributed to his wife’s death. The aim isn’t to get money, he said, but to mandate standardized training for all 911 operators.
“The ultimate goal is that some changes need to be made and light has to be brought to this issue, not just on a local level but I think on a national level,” he told Lauer.
Denise Amber Lee was kidnapped at about 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, from her home in North Port, Fla. At 6:14, she managed to use her kidnapper’s cell phone to call 911 and leave an open connection that allowed the Charlotte County Sheriff to know about the kidnapping. At 6:23 another 911 call from a witness reported a woman who might have been kidnapped in a dark green Camaro.
With police on the lookout for the car, another motorist saw a woman screaming and kicking and beating on the windows of a dark-colored Camaro on I-75. She called 911 at 6:30 and gave dispatchers an exact location of the vehicle and its direction of travel, but for a critical half-hour they “forgot” to pass the information along.
Lee blames the 911 operators for not passing along the information about a woman in distress in the back of a Camaro. Two operators were suspended for the way they mishandled the information, one for two days, the other for a month. Lee says that’s not long enough.
“It’s a deeper issue than just somebody forgetting. There’s a lot of issues in that call center,” he said. “The fact is, Denise did everything she possibly could to save her life and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office did not do everything it could to save her life. I think that’s what the deepest issue is.”
Victim dialed 911
The thought that her life could have been saved continues to gnaw at him.
“It’s extremely frustrating, knowing we were so close to being able to see her again,” Lee said. “It’s already hard enough dealing with what happened to her, but knowing that we were so close is just extremely difficult.”
A classical musician, Lee has not been able to go back to his day job with Florida Power and Light, but he has continued to play the trumpet with the Venice Symphony orchestra. He has described Denise Lee as his soul mate. Family pictures show a slight young woman with a big smile playing with the two boys she devoted her life to as a stay-at-home mom.
Coincidentally, Denise Lee’s father is Charlotte County Sheriff’s Lt. Richard Goff, and it was he who identified his daughter’s voice on the call she managed to make to 911. Goff has joined Lee in lobbying for a mandatory standardized training law for 911 operators in Florida.
Lee is also fighting to prevent the release of the call his wife made from the Camaro. He had talked to her earlier in the day.
“My last words to her were, ‘I love you,’ ” he said. He said he has not listened to her 911 call and doesn’t want to.
“I have not listened to that call. I never, ever want to have to listen to that call. Nobody should have to listen to that,” he said.