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Home > Topics > Community Awareness

Dial 9 before 911? Hotel death prompts petition

A 9-year-old tried to call 911 from a Texas hotel room where she could hear her mother dying, but didn't know she had to dial 9 first

By Nomaan Merchant
The Associated Press

DALLAS — Hank Hunt's granddaughter tried calling 911 from the East Texas hotel room where she could hear her mother dying, just as she was taught to do in an emergency. She didn't know she had to dial 9 on the hotel phone first.

"Papa," Hunt remembers the 9-year-old telling him later. "I tried, but it wouldn't work."

Now Hunt has launched a national push to require hotels and other businesses to do away with dialing anything before calling 911. So far, an online petition for a federal law has gotten 390,000 signatures, and one 911 advocacy group says Hunt has hit on a perhaps under-documented issue.

"I never dreamed that it would take a life of its own like this," Hunt said this week. "There's been a lot of good people out there helping us."

Hunt's petition calls for "Kari's Law," in honor of his daughter, Kari Hunt Dunn, who was stabbed to death inside a Baymont Inn hotel, allegedly by her estranged husband. The law as described by the petition would require hotels and motels to upgrade to "Enhanced 911" systems that would let guests call for help just by dialing 911 and give the operator the caller's exact location.

The National Emergency Number Association, a group representing 911 call takers and industry professionals, says such changes are long overdue. Government affairs director Trey Forgety said the association did not know exactly how many callers try to dial 911 and fail. But officials hear "with some regularity" from member law enforcement agencies about callers who couldn't get through, he said.

"If it makes it onto our radar a few times a year, then it does sort of beg the question: How many identical situations are out there that we just don't hear about?" Forgety said.

Police in Marshall, about 150 miles east of Dallas, say Brad Dunn entered a room in the Baymont Inn where Kari Dunn and their three children were staying. Hunt said Brad Dunn took his estranged wife into the bathroom, leaving the children outside.

Det. Sonya Johnson said that as Brad Dunn began stabbing Kari Dunn, their eldest daughter tried to call for help. Four times, Hunt said, she dialed 911. Each time, it came up with static. Hunt said the children eventually ran into the hallway and found someone in a nearby room to call 911.

Brad Dunn would flee with their younger daughter and was arrested in a neighboring county. He's now accused of murder and being held on $5 million bond. His attorney, Scott Rectenwald, declined to comment.

Hunt and Johnson could not say how much extra time it took to call 911 due to the delay, or whether that time could have saved Kari's life.

"We have no sense of knowing, because she never did make the call," Johnson said.

There were no immediate figures available on how many hotels require guests to dial 9 to make outside calls. Wyndham Hotel Group, which owns the Baymont Inn brand, said in a statement it was "looking into the issues that have been raised in the petition," but declined to say how many of its hotels require guests to dial 9 or what changes it was making.

Hotel experts say an industry-wide change could be made without a national law.

Don O'Neal, a Dallas-based hotel technology consultant for more than 30 years, said one hotel he worked with recently made 8 the code for outside calls — but programmed 911 calls to work without a prefix.

A handful of hotels either use old systems or more basic phone systems that aren't intended for hospitality use.

"If this particular hotel did not have it set up properly, it was strictly because they didn't have the programming done, or else they had a telephone system that was not very current," O'Neal said.

One issue is that a direct-dial system might notify police, but not a hotel's front desk, about an urgent situation to which staff could respond more quickly, said Chad Callahan, safety and security consultant for the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Callahan said he didn't think a law was necessary.

"Working together on these things, hotels can be reasonable about it," Callahan said. "As long as they understand it, they'll probably do the right thing in most cases."

But NENA officials said some requirements are needed for all businesses that serve guests.

Associated PressCopyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

"The brand knowledge of 911 is one of the highest in the world," said Ty Wooten, the group's education director. "When you put anything or do anything that requires someone to do something other than dialing 911, it lends itself to potential problems."

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
George Beltz George Beltz Friday, January 10, 2014 2:25:00 PM Something I wouldn't think to teach my children.
Dan Howard Dan Howard Friday, January 10, 2014 3:06:06 PM i never thought of this problem until this article..its kind of an eye opener...we all take 911 for granted and expect it work everytime without having to dial other #s before hand
Brian Ferrante Brian Ferrante Friday, January 10, 2014 5:25:48 PM I have always had worries about this in public sector. In a previous job, I over saw a private / public facility that had phones requiring us to dial "9" for a outside line. I took it upon my self to put a label on each public accessible phone with "Dial 9-911 in a Emergency" and even listed the facility address for a potential caller to have access to. I'm very glad to see this moving forward and fully support it. It is many years overdue and the systems have the capabilities, someone just needs to force phone providers to implement it.
Richard Killeen Richard Killeen Friday, January 10, 2014 5:46:46 PM This law would have never stopped this women murder. She would have been dead before the police arrived. Why do people want government to make laws that will do nothing? I am sorry she was murdered. But making a law that will give government control over what phone system hotels and most likly business can use. When they are spying on everything we do is dumb. This petition is poorly thought out. And will do nothing. A good incentive for business to do this is. Not being the place someone was murdered in. Not having useless government over sight.
Jason Fox Jason Fox Friday, January 10, 2014 8:06:39 PM your right this probably wouldn't have saved this woman BUT could possibly help 1000s of others who need immediate medical attention! I commend the family for bringing an obvious issue that needs addressed to the public's attention so no other child has to feel the way this poor 9 year old will feel the rest of her life
Richard Killeen Richard Killeen Friday, January 10, 2014 8:42:37 PM Jason Fox I am not disagreeing that something should be done. But, making a law is not the answer. Politicians will just use it in some way to line the pockets of their constituents. But if a big enough out cry happened the businesses would do it to make their customers happy. Despite what many people thing businesses know they have to respond to customer demand. If online reviews and blogs started to condemn hotels and motels that didn't make the change they would do it. With no need for government.
Skyler Bellardo Skyler Bellardo Friday, January 10, 2014 9:51:28 PM you should be able to just dial 911. u can freaking call them on a cell phone that has been turned off for years, so why not on a hotel phone?
Wayland Slater Wayland Slater Friday, January 17, 2014 6:38:33 PM I feel so sorry for the little girl. She was doing everything right as she was taught. Too bad she didn't think of calling the desk or just "0". But in the moment. especially a little one just does what they learned. I just hope she doesn't or won't later blame herself for her mother's death. This reminds me of an urban legend where and old man was told to dial "nine-eleven" for emergencies. Well supposedly tried to call it when his wife got sick but he said it didn't work. He said he dialed 9 but couldn't find the "11" on the phone. That's why you stress to them to dial 9-1-1. I was told that story in the early 80's.

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