Push for GPS data during 111 calls

MICHELLE DUFF, KAY BLUNDELL AND TIM DONOGHUE
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2013

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A man struck by a car and killed after drunkenly dialling for police help has sparked a coroner's recommendation for phone companies to provide the GPS locations of callers.

Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith has called on telecommunications companies to make GPS locations immediately available to police when emergency services are called on modern cellphones.

He made this recommendation while delivering his findings on the death of 27-year-old Otaki man Jason Patrick Roach.

Roach died in Wellington Hospital from "blunt force head injuries" 10 hours after jumping out in front of a van on State Highway 1 on the outskirts of Waikanae early on December 12, 2010.

He had argued with his girlfriend at a Waikanae party before leaving, saying he was going to walk home to Otaki.

A blood test later revealed he was more than twice the legal alcohol limit.

Soon afterwards a motorist called police to advise that a man was jumping out in front of traffic, waving his arms in an effort to get drivers to give him a ride home.

Roach phoned police from his cellphone at 1.28am, telling an operator he was going to step out in front of cars.

Roach was unable to say exactly where he was, stating "between Waikanae and Otaki" before the call disconnected, the coroner's report said.

The police communications operator tried unsuccessfully to call Roach back, before asking Telecom to trace the call at 1.31am.

A police car was dispatched two minutes later, from 12 kilometres away at Paraparaumu Beach.

Telecom responded at 1.41am, but could only confirm the Waikanae cellphone tower Mr Roach was closest to.

The constable driving the police car had little information to go on but was about 200 metres and "90 seconds away" when he saw the accident involving Mr Roach and the van, Mr Smith said.

He recommended consideration be given to make GPS locations from cellphones immediately available. He acknowledged not all cellphones had GPS capability and that there may be privacy issues.

He found Mr Roach had no suicidal intention but was nevertheless the author of his own misfortune as he was clearly intoxicated, describing his death as one of "fatal misadventure".

Roach's grieving mother Fleur Roach welcomed the coroner's recommendation.

It may not have saved Roach, as his cellphone did not have GPS, and she believed he had thrown it away and smashed it after ringing 111.

"But at least it would have put police in the right direction - anything that could save people in the future," she said.

"Things have never been the same since. You just don't want it to happen to other people unnecessarily."

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The birth of Jason's three-year-old daughter, who was "the spitting image of him", had helped her survive the tragedy.

In a submission to the inquiry, police said most new cellphones on the market had GPS capability.

"If this information source was available on request it would greatly assist and improve emergency services' (police, fire and ambulance) response ensuring such callers received effective assistance promptly."

New Zealand Telecommunications Forum chief executive officer David Stone said a working party made up of telecommunications companies, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment and emergency services was trying to find a solution.

While GPS-equipped smartphones could tell the owner where they were, there was currently no way of transmitting this information to the network, he said.

Currently, location was tracked using the cell tower closest to the call. In rural areas, this could be a 20km radius, he said.

- The Dominion Post

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