Delayed 911 response a matter of geography and jurisdictions

Stephanie Hooks pleaded for help after collapsing on the floor of her South Los Angeles home.

"I can't breathe... . Help me breathe!" the 53-year-old grandmother wailed as frantic family members took turns on the phone with a Los Angeles Fire Department dispatcher, who alerted paramedics at a city station nearly 3 miles away.

More than a mile closer, just across the city border, rescuers at a Los Angeles County Fire Department station sat idle, unaware of the unfolding emergency, county records show.

It took more than 10 minutes for LAFD paramedics to reach Hooks, who went into cardiac arrest and died at a hospital. A faster response might not have saved her, but the February 2009 incident highlights a failure to fix how the agency responds to thousands of emergency medical calls along L.A.'s jagged borders despite reforms promised decades ago.


In South L.A., part of the Gramercy Park neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by county territory. That's where Stephanie Hooks lived for more than 10 years.

A former quality-control analyst at a microchip firm, Hooks enjoyed caring for her 7-year-old granddaughter and watching her teenage daughter, Alnisha, compete in track and field events.

Early one morning, Hooks began gasping for air as she left home to walk her dogs.

"Call 911!" her husband yelled.

Family members took turns talking to the LAFD dispatcher on speaker phone, according to a copy of the 911 tape obtained by The Times.

"Stay calm 'cause the firemen are on the way," the dispatcher said early on in the call.

After four minutes, help still had not arrived.

"They're not here!" Stephanie Hooks shouted. "I can't breathe!"

"Mommy, you're scaring me," Alnisha told her.

"I know there's a fire station on 108th,"
Alnisha said five minutes into the call, referring to the closer county firehouse where medics were available.

"Where they at?" demanded Hooks' agitated husband, Alvin. More than a minute later, he asked again.

"They're just a little ways away," the dispatcher assured him. "You'll be hearing sirens shortly."

But the agonizing wait continued -- a total of 10 minutes and 30 seconds after the family first reached the LAFD, records show.