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911 operators failed to follow policy before 6 died on flooded bridge, court docs allege

Supervisor: County highway should be notified
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Posted at 10:37 AM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 18:43:39-05

FRANKLIN COUNTY — New information revealed 911 operators may have violated Franklin County’s own policy by not sending help to a flooded bridge.

On March 20, 2020, six people died after their vehicles got swept away from the Sanes Creek bridge in Laurel despite 911 calls warning the bridge was covered in water.

“I hear them call, and I can’t get to them”: Father lost two daughters

The holidays are a tough time for Laurel father Josh Mosier.

This will be the second Christmas without his daughters 4-year-old KyLee, 7-year-old Elysium and their 13-year-old half-brother, Ethan.

“KyLee was very emotional and clingy,” Mosier said. “She liked dressing up and playing in her tutus and most of the time on my lap. Elysium was tough for such a little girl and loved being outside, loved playing with her sister."

This will be the second Christmas Josh Mosier has spent without his daughters KyLee and Elysium and their half-brother Ethan.  Mosier’s ex-girlfriend Felina Lewis was driving her kids to the babysitter on her way to work the morning of March 20, 2020, when her van got swept away by floodwaters on Sanes Creek bridge in Franklin County.
This will be the second Christmas Josh Mosier has spent without his daughters KyLee and Elysium and their half-brother Ethan.

Mosier’s ex-girlfriend Felina Lewis was driving her kids to the babysitter on her way to work the morning of March 20, 2020, when her van got swept away by floodwaters on Sanes Creek bridge.

Felina, KyLee, Elysium, and Ethan drowned.

Burton Spurlock and Shawn Roberts went off the same bridge and also died that morning.

Mosier lives near the creek and found his daughter’s bodies, but it was too late.

“It definitely makes it hard to sleep,” Mosier said. “It's almost like I hear them call, and I can't get to them."

Citizens called 911 and Sheriff about bridge, creek flooding

What Mosier didn’t know when he found his daughters is that several people called 911 and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department hours before Felina Lewis and the kids went into Sanes Creek.

The first call came in at approximately 3:17 a.m. from a woman who lives near the bridge.

  • 911 Operator: 911 what's your emergency?
  • Caller: Uh, Sanes Creek Road is flooded.
  • 911 Operator: OK, is there an emergency? Is someone stuck?
  • Caller: No, we was just going down the hill and we turned around but yeah it's flooded bad.

Another caller contacted 911 an hour later, at around 4:18 a.m.

  • Caller: The bridge here on Sanes Creek at the bottom of Sanes Creek hill is completely washed out. It's gone on one side. Somebody better get down here and block it off before someone goes into the river.
  • 911 Operator: OK, I’ll let them know.
  • Caller: Thanks.

A third person called the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department at 4:46 a.m. after her son had trouble getting to work.

  • Caller: The water is so deep. He drives a red GMC truck. He said the water is so deep, it went halfway up his headlights and it is moving very fast and almost took him down the creek.

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The Sanes Creek bridge in Franklin County was swept away on March 20, 2020.

New information suggests tragedy could have been prevented

Josh Mosier filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January against Franklin County and the sheriff’s department on Jan. 11, 2021.

The complaint alleged the county was negligent when it failed to notify the traveling public about the washed-out bridge and roadway.

Since WRTV Investigates first told you about this case back in April, a lot has happened behind the scenes, including depositions of the 911 operators who worked that morning as well as the 911 supervisor.

Mosier’s attorney said what those depositions revealed is proof this tragedy could have been prevented.

Through a records request, WRTV Investigates obtained a copy of the county’s policy and procedure manual which states, “When Franklin County Dispatch receives a call of any type of obstruction or failure to a Franklin County road, ie trees down, flooded water, etc, the appropriate County Highway Supervisor will be notified."

In an October deposition as part of Mosier’s wrongful death lawsuit, Franklin County 911 Supervisor Jon Hundley testified it is policy for county highway and a sheriff’s deputy to be notified, if a deputy is available.

But that didn’t happen.

Hundley testified a dispatch trainee and her supervisor both heard the 4:18 a.m. call, about 40 minutes before Felina Lewis’ van went into the creek.

  • Caller: The bridge here on Sanes Creek at the bottom of Sanes Creek hill is completely washed out. It's gone on one side. Somebody better get down here and block it off before someone goes into the river.
  • 911 Operator: OK, I’ll let them know.
  • Caller: Thanks.

But they did not let anyone know, court documents allege.
Instead, Hundley testified someone working in the call center consciously converted the 4:18 a.m. call to an I-call.

That means information only, and according to the county’s training manual, an I-call does not have to be assigned or cleared by an officer.

Mosier’s attorney, Tim Devereux of Carmel-based law firm Wagner Reese, said Hundley’s deposition was eye-opening.

"What we didn't realize until we got into these depositions is that the call had to be consciously changed,” Devereux said. “It was changed, and because of that, no actions were taken to prevent the tragedy that occurred."

They also obtained a 5:13 p.m. call from March 20 in which Franklin County Chief Deputy Greg Mehlbauer called into dispatch to have one of his employees review the call log.

During that call, Mehlbauer asked if anyone had reported the bridge was out.

  • Mehlbauer: God help whoever didn’t pass that on if it’s in there.
  • Dispatcher: Wait, there was a call at 4:18. It says advise the bridge on Sanes Creek Road is completely washed away.
  • Mehlbauer: What did they do with it?
  • Dispatcher: It looks like it was made an I-call.
  • Mehlbauer: Are you f*cking kidding me?

Devereux believes six people would be alive today had the 911 operators followed the county’s policy to contact county highway about an obstructed roadway.
"I was trying to think, how am I going to tell Josh?” Devereux said. “It's difficult to tell him that your worst fears are confirmed, this was preventable.”

PREVIOUS | County highway workers lived near bridge where six people died

The lawsuit also alleges the 911 dispatchers were posting to social media around the same time the calls about the bridge came in, an allegation the county denies.

Mosier’s attorney obtained video from inside the 911 call center.

“When we watched the video we saw these people were on their phones,” Devereux said. “They were on their cellphones during this time frame."

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Josh Mosier looks over the Sanes Creek bridge where six people died on March 20, 2020.

Laurel company added to wrongful death lawsuit

Mosier and his attorneys filed an amended lawsuit on Oct. 15 naming Copperhead Excavating of Laurel as a defendant.

They claim Copperhead Excavating contracted with Franklin County to perform shoring services around the Sanes Creek bridge.

The lawsuit claims Copperhead Excavating was negligent by failing to properly place, anchor or secure the stone blocks to prevent the approaches to the bridge from washing out during times of high water.

Devereux shared photos with WRTV of the creek after the incident.

“The blocks that were positioned there were not cemented together, we can't see they were cabled together or that they were secure,” Devereux said. “So that's what we want to do in our lawsuit is dig in to see how that work was done, how it should have been done and possibly how this incident would have been impacted had this been done properly."

In its response to the court filed Nov. 29, Copperhead Excavating denied it was negligent and blamed an “Act of God” for the injuries and/or property damage.

Copperhead Excavating also said in its court filing the work they did in 2017 “was performed in a workmanlike manner,” but the company pointed out it was not involved in the design or construction of the bridge itself.

The company’s attorney Tim Spille declined to comment to WRTV about the lawsuit.

In a court filing, Franklin County denied it was negligent and also denied Copperhead Excavating was negligent.

Franklin County claims it is immune from liability in this case under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

Franklin County has asked the court for more time, and Mosier’s attorneys are fighting any delays.

“We have families that are seeking closure,” Devereux said. “They would like to see this resolved. "

Devereux also said immunity doesn’t apply because the county’s response to the flooded bridge was “willful or wanton misconduct," which is alleged in the lawsuit.

"It is a conscious disregard for the safety of others,” Devereux said. “They knew that no officer would be sent out, there would be no sheriff’s car at the bridge to block it with the lights on. They didn’t send a fire truck. There were options they could have done and didn’t.”

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A memorial honors the six people who died when their vehicles were swept away at the Sanes Creek bridge on March 20, 2020.

Father upset with how county handled 911 calls

Josh Mosier tries to stay busy with his work as a cattle farmer.

He finds it difficult to accept his daughters are gone, as well as Felina and Ethan, knowing the county policy required dispatchers to contact a county highway supervisor.

PREVIOUS | County highway workers lived near bridge where six people died

"There's a better way to handle a 911 call,” Mosier said. “That's what they're there for, it's an emergency phone call. This wasn't an accident, this was something that could have been prevented."

A memorial alongside the creek serves as a reminder of what happened that day.

Mosier rarely comes to the spot where it happened, even though it’s close to his home.

“I just blow them kisses and give silent words as I go across the bridge,” Mosier said.

KyLee and Elysium loved playing in the creek, and it was once the family’s happy place.

“It is something I’ve loved my whole life, catching crawdads, and now it has a whole different meaning for me,” Mosier said.

Mosier’s wrongful death lawsuit is set for a court hearing on Jan. 6, 2022.

The 911 operators are not named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the county’s attorney, one of the dispatchers named in the lawsuit was terminated on March 27, 2020, after a county internal investigation found he gave untruthful statements about a dispatch call the county received on March 20, 2020, the same day Felina Lewis and five others died in the creek.

Another employee listed in the lawsuit is still working for Franklin County and was still in training on the day of the March 20 flood, the county’s attorney said.

WRTV Investigates reached out to Franklin County’s attorney for a response to the latest allegations involving the violation of policy, and we are still waiting to hear back.

We are also still waiting to hear back on whether the county has changed its training, policies or procedures following the tragedy.

In April, WRTV Investigates shared the following statement from the Franklin County Commissioners:

Last year on March 19 and 20, Franklin County was hit by severe thunderstorms that included hail, high winds, and a significant amount of rain. The storms caused local streams, creeks, and rivers to overflow, including Sanes Creek. The water level in Sanes Creek quickly rose and the rushing water created a large drift pile in the creek. That drift pile forced water behind one of the supports for the bridge. While the bridge was not damaged, the water washed away the road approaching the bridge. Unfortunately, two vehicles were also washed away by the rushing water and six lives were lost.

All bridges in Franklin County are inspected at least every two years. In addition to the regular inspections, the County (via its consultant) conducted a special inspection of the Sanes Creek Bridge after the tragic events of March 20. The inspection found the bridge was structurally sound. The approach to the bridge was rebuilt and the bridge was safely re-opened for travel.

Severe weather is unavoidable, and the power of rushing water is devastating. Franklin County Emergency Management and first responders work to make sure Franklin County is ready to respond to emergency situations, including weather-related disasters.

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