Thursday, June 5, 2008

Campers in trouble from 911 prank call

Two kids making a prank 911 call on a cellphone resulted in sheriff's deputies conducting an extensive search early Wednesday morning, a situation that also highlighted the shortcomings of "unsubscribed" cellphones and the lack of GPS tracking systems in squad cars used by deputies.

The 12- and 13-year-olds were on a school district camping trip at Lake Kegonsa State Park in Wisconsin, said Elise Schaffer, public information officer for the Dane County Sheriff's Office.

A call came in to the 911 center at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, but the caller hung up. Since the call was from an unsubscribed phone, there was no phone number available to the dispatcher to call back.

"It could have been from a 'pay as you go' phone or from a recycled cellphone that can only be used to make 911 calls," Schaffer said. "Since they were on a camping trip, they might have had a cellphone just for emergency use."

The 911 call couldn't be pinpointed so deputies would have been stuck if not for a sergeant who had a GPS program. By using coordinates provided by the 911 center, the sergeant used the GPS computer to narrow the search to within 300 feet of the phone.

"A chaperone on the camping trip found out the two students were misusing the phone and called the 911 center at about the same time the deputies arrived," Schaffer said. The two were cited for making false reports to the 911 system and were released to the chaperone.

Deputies don't have GPS systems on their computers while supervisory personnel, such as sergeants, do. Since the sergeant was able to help in finding the 911 callers, the deputies located the kids.

About seven hours earlier on Tuesday night, the same two pranksters made a 911 call that couldn't be located because there wasn't a GPS-equipped car available. "The deputies were dispatched to the earlier call but were unable to locate the caller or anyone needing assistance," Schaffer said. (Info from The Capital Times, Wisconsin)

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