Cincinnati police never left their car when they searched for trapped teen

Cincinnati police never left their car when they searched for trapped teen
Cincinnati Police via CNN
A picture of the gold 2002 Honda Odyssey where Kyle Plush was found not breathing and unresponsive.

Cincinnati police officers searching for a teenager trapped in a van last month drove around for 14 minutes in the parking lot where the van was parked but never got out of their patrol car, police said Monday.

The officers explained that they thought they could cover more ground by remaining in the vehicle and looking out both sides, according to Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot K. Isaac.

That revelation was part of an internal investigation released Monday in the death of Kyle Plush, who called police when he became trapped in the third-row folding seat of his van on April 10 in the parking lot at his school.

Police dispatched to the scene did not locate him, and his body was not found until almost six hours later. A preliminary autopsy ruled that he had died of asphyxia due to chest compression.

The failure to find Kyle has led to sharp questioning of what went wrong and how emergency and 911 protocols could be changed.

“At a big picture level, it’s important to say that I think we failed. We failed to get the outcome we wanted in this emergency response,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said.

“One thing I’ve heard over the past month is what happened to Kyle was the perfect storm,” said Ron Plush, Kyle’s father. “So was this the perfect storm or a series of multiple failures?”

The internal investigation released Monday concluded that 911 operators and police officers acted appropriately and reasonably last month in their response to Kyle’s calls.

But Ron Plush said the internal investigation did not give him enough information.

“I was expecting that by hearing the police report today, many of my questions would be answered,” he said. “This is not the case.”

Timeline of police response

Isaac laid out a timeline of the police response and revealed that the 911 dispatcher could not fully hear Kyle’s pleas for help.

According to recordings of the 911 calls released to the public, Kyle twice was able to use voice commands to call police and ask for help. The first call, at 3:14 p.m., lasted about three minutes.

“Help, help, help. I’m stuck in my van outside the Seven Hills parking lot. Help. I need help,” he says.

The operator, though, was unable to fully hear him, Isaac said. At 3:21, two officers were dispatched to the area and told to look for a woman saying she was stuck in a van at a parking lot near the Seven Hills school.

Surveillance video from the school parking lot shows the police vehicle driving around, but the vehicle does not stop near Kyle’s van. Meanwhile, other students walked past Kyle’s van and also did not appear to stop near it or respond to it.

The officers turned on their body-worn cameras when they arrived on scene, but then deactivated them after three minutes. Chief Isaac said that violated department procedure, but he otherwise said the officers acted reasonably in their search.

Kyle managed to call 911 again at 3:34 pm. The 911 operator engaged the caller but got no response, police said.

It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that evening that police were dispatched to the scene again and found him dead inside the van.

Kyle’s father said he and his family would continue to be a part of the process to fix the system.

“Kyle will give us the strength and guidance to get the job done,” Ron Plush said.