David Ashburn is a member of the Walker County Development Authority.Photo by Ryan Harris
Austin Moore knew something was wrong when what he thought was indigestion kept getting more and more painful. Alone and sweating heavily in his home south of LaFayette, Ga., he called 911.
And got a busy signal.
"I don't know how many times I called 911," the 72-year-old said. "Nothing happened."
Callers weren't able to get through to the Walker County 911 Center in Rock Spring for several hours on July 5, according to County Coordinator David Ashburn.
"In 20 years, this is the second time this has ever happened," he noted.
Officials were still trying to figure out this week exactly what happened, but the "trunk lines," or phone lines dedicated to 911, weren't passing emergency calls along, Ashburn said.
Calls definitely weren't coming through from 8 p.m. until after midnight, he said, and while heavy storms struck that night, the phone problems may have begun earlier.
Moore said he started calling 911 on a landline phone at about 1:30 p.m.
The center was receiving calls when Moore tried to get through, Ashburn said, but one explanation for Moore's inability to reach anyone might be that calls were getting through from cellphones, which are routed differently than landline calls.
Moore's wife was away at her doctor's office in Chattanooga, so he was alone when he had the heart attack in his Trion Highway home. At first, he figured he had indigestion, but the pain got worse and worse. Sweating profusely, he stripped down to his shorts while lying in bed and calling 911.
Too disoriented to call his wife or son, Moore finally remembered the Georgia State Patrol's number, and that got an ambulance en route.
"If I hadn't remembered the state patrol's number, I'd be dead today," Moore said.
A Walker County Emergency Services ambulance took him to a hospital in Rome, Ga.
Ashburn said the Georgia State Patrol patched Moore's call through the 911 center's administrative phone line and help was sent.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.