A Pennsylvania 911 operator faces a rare charge of involuntary manslaughter for failing to send an ambulance to the rural home of a woman who died of internal bleeding a day later, despite a plea from the woman's daughter that without medical help “she's going to die.”
A Greene County detective last week filed charges against Leon “Lee” Price, 50, of Waynesburg, in the July 2020 death of Diania Kronk, 54, based on Price's reluctance to dispatch help without getting more assurance that Kronk would actually go to the hospital.
“I believe she would be alive today if they would have sent an ambulance,” said Kronk’s daughter Kelly Titchenell, 38.
Price, who also was charged with reckless endangerment, official oppression and obstruction, questioned Titchenell repeatedly during the four-minute call about whether Kronk would agree to be taken for treatment.
Price was arraigned June 29 and released on bail. He did not reply to messages left at a home number listed in his name, and officials said a defense lawyer has not contacted district court.
“It has to be very clear throughout the entire state, that when you call it's not going to be conditioned on somebody on the other end of the phone saying there's going to be a service provided or not,” said Lawrence E. Bolind Jr., who represents Titchenell in a federal lawsuit filed last month. “What we're trying to do here is make this never happen to somebody else.”
In the 911 recording, an operator identified by police as Price replied to Titchenell’s description of her mother as needing hospital treatment by asking if she was “willing to go” to the hospital about a half-hour away from where she was living in Sycamore.
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“She will be, 'cause I’m on my way there, so she’s going, or she’s going to die,” Titchenell told Price as she drove from her home in Mather.
Price said he would send an ambulance but then added that “we really need to make sure she’s willing to go.”
“She’s going to go, she’s going to go,” Titchenell said. “Cause if not, she’s going to die, there’s nothing else.” She said that Kronk was not thinking clearly and that she was her mother’s closest relation. When Price again asked if Kronk would in fact go, Titchenell replied: “OK, well, can we just try?”
After Titchenell told Price she was about 10 minutes from her mother's home, Price asked if Titchenell would call 911 back once she made sure Kronk was willing to go in an ambulance.
“I’m sorry,” Titchenell said, and Price replied: “No, don’t be sorry, ma’am. Just call me when you get out there, OK?”
When Titchenell and her three children arrived at the house, she said, Kronk was nude on the front porch and talking incoherently. She got her mother to put on a robe.
“She just kept saying she was OK, she's fine,” Titchenell said. “She's the mom, you know — she doesn't listen to her children.”
Titchenell said she could not call from the home because her mother's landline could not be located and there was not cell service. She also did not call on her way home, believing that her uncle would soon check on her and that another contact with 911 would be pointless.
“This is unheard of, to me. I mean, they’ll send an ambulance for anything,” Titchenell said. “And here I am telling this guy that my mom’s going to die. It’s, like, her death, and she doesn’t get an ambulance.”
Her brother found the next day that their mother had died.
The prosecutor, Greene County District Attorney Dave Russo, said he is also investigating whether there was any policy or training under which the county’s 911 dispatchers were allowed to refuse services to callers.
“We all deserve equal protections, and we all deserve access to medical services,” Russo said in an interview. “I have a major concern as to the safety of the community in regards to this.”
John Kelly, a Naperville, Illinois, lawyer who is general counsel to the National Emergency Number Association, said criminal charges against dispatchers for failing to send help are very rare but have happened.
In a case Kelly teaches in dispatcher training, a 911 operator in Detroit received a year of probation in 2008 and lost her job after, authorities said, she did not take seriously a boy’s calls to report his mother had collapsed. The 5-year-old boy testified that the dispatcher accused him of playing games and hung up on him, while the dispatcher testified that she could not hear the child.
Titchenell, on behalf of her mother’s estate, sued Price and Greene County in Pittsburgh federal court last month, along with two 911 supervisors. The lawsuit accuses Price of “callous refusal of public emergency medical services.”
Marie Milie Jones, a lawyer for the county and 911 supervisors in the federal case, said her clients plan to vigorously defend the lawsuit and do not believe they are liable for Kronk’s death. She said there are “personnel matters that are ongoing” regarding Price but declined to elaborate.
“It's unfortunate that this woman had died. Certainly, from a personal standpoint, that’s very difficult,” Jones said. “I’m not going to comment on the details of her circumstances.”
Titchenell told Price that her mother had been drinking heavily for some weeks before she died, and that Titchenell had noticed she was losing weight and was “turning yellow.” She said the autopsy concluded Kronk, who worked in home health care, died of internal bleeding.
She said she thinks about her late mother every day — how the former longtime sub shop manager loved to cook, to help people and to spoil her five grandchildren, how she would pile a mountain of presents under the tree every Christmas.
“She had the biggest heart,” Titchenell said. “If someone didn't have a place to live, she was going to take them in, give them a bed. That was Mom.”