LAUREL — An Indiana father is pushing for changes after two of his daughters died when they were swept away in spring floodwaters.
“This wasn’t an accident, this was something that could have been prevented,” said Josh Mosier of Laurel, Indiana.
Six people died on March 20, 2020, after their vehicles went into Sanes Creek in Franklin County, including Mosier’s daughters — KyLee, age 4, and Elysium, age 7.
WRTV Investigates obtained 911 recordings that call into question whether Franklin County ignored repeated warnings that part of a bridge had been washed away.
A Father Haunted: “I hear them call and I can’t get to them.”
Josh Mosier is a cattle farmer who has lived in Franklin County Indiana most of his life.
It’s hard for Mosier to live just yards away from Sanes Creek, where his two daughters died last spring.
"They touched everything,” said Mosier. “Their memory is here."
Mosier is haunted by how his daughters died — their mother’s vehicle was swept away by floodwaters.
"It definitely makes it hard to sleep,” said Mosier. “It's almost like I hear them call and I can't get to them."
Before dawn on March 20, 2020, Felina Lewis woke her two children with Josh Mosier, KyLee and Elysium, and her 13-year-old son Ethan.
Lewis needed to drop them off at the babysitter before her 6 a.m. shift at Gecom in Greensburg.
There had been approximately 2.5 inches of rainfall in Franklin County over the past two days.
Just before 5 am, Lewis and her children were headed west on Sanes Creek Road toward the bridge, not realizing part of the bridge had been washed out.
Their vehicle was swept away and carried down the creek.
Josh Mosier was on his way to a job when he got the call that Lewis’s van had been found upside down in the creek.
“My heart fell between my legs,” said Mosier. “In my heart, I had a feeling.”
When crews told Mosier they weren’t inside the van, Mosier went searching along the creek, and found four-year-old KyLee’s body first.
"I just held her, and told her it was OK, that daddy got her,” said Mosier. “That she didn't have to scream for me anymore, but daddy wasn't done. I had to find her sister."
Hours later, Mosier found Elysium’s body.
The girls’ mother and Josh's ex-girlfriend, Felina Lewis, and her son Ethan also died that morning.
“The sights, the sounds, the smells, that's what I struggle with the most,” said Mosier.
Two men, Burton Spurlock and Shawn Roberts of Laurel also died when their vehicle was swept into Sanes Creek.
Citizens called 911 and Sheriff about bridge, creek flooding
What Mosier didn’t know 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 am from a woman who lives near the bridge.
Operator: 911 what's your emergency?
Caller: Uh, Sanes Creek Road is flooded.
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 am.
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.
A third person called the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department at 4:46 am 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.
At 4:54 am, Franklin County received another 911 call from a neighbor who stated she saw a vehicle swept off the bridge into Sanes Creek and that she could hear a woman screaming.
Despite at least three warning calls, court documents allege Franklin County did not dispatch a sheriff’s deputy, fire truck, or county highway crew to block off the road.
"This wasn't an accident,” said Mosier. “This was something that could have been prevented."
Carmel attorney Tim Devereux of law firm Wagner Reese represents Josh Mosier and his deceased daughters, KyLee and Elysium.
"To have that specific information provided to you and then just not act on it, is just unfathomable,” said Devereux. “I can’t imagine how anyone could think a bridge out is something that didn’t need to be acted upon.”
Mosier filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Franklin County and the sheriff’s department on January 11, 2021.
The complaint alleges the county was negligent when it failed to notify the traveling public about the washed-out bridge and roadway.
It also alleges the county converted the 911 calls about the bridge to “I-calls” or information only, meaning they did not have to send an officer to the scene.
“That means that call does not have to be cleared by a deputy,” said Devereux.
Mosier’s attorneys obtained the 911 calls through a public records request and provided them to WRTV Investigates.
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, Chief Deputy Greg Mehlbauer learned of the 4:18 am call regarding the washed-out bridge/roadway.
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,” said Devereux. “They were on their cellphones during this time frame."
Franklin County’s Response
WRTV Investigates reached out to Franklin County and their attorney, Liberty Roberts of Noblesville law firm Church Church Hittle & Antrim.
We received 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.”
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.
On February 2, 2021, Franklin County filed a response to the lawsuit in which it denied it was negligent and denied it failed to warn the traveling public about the washed-out bridge.
The county also said in its response that it received a 911 call at 4:46 a.m. about poles in the road and denied it received a call at that time about Sanes Creek Road flooding.
The county’s response also indicated that the county conducted an internal investigation into the matter, but court documents did not reveal the findings of that investigation.
In its response, Franklin County claims it is immune from liability in this case under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.
Mosier and his attorney disagree, saying immunity doesn’t apply because the county’s response was “willful or wanton misconduct.”
"It is a conscious disregard for the safety of others,” said Devereux. “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.”
“There’s a better way to handle a 911 call,” said Mosier. “That’s what they’re there for. It’s an emergency phone call.”
“I just blow them kisses” A father tries to move forward
Three cars went into Sanes Creek the morning of March 20, 2020.
In total, six people died as a result.
The family of Felina Lewis has filed its own wrongful death lawsuit against the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
Ethan Williams’ father also filed a similar lawsuit against the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department on January 11.
On March 1, a Franklin County judge consolidated all three lawsuits for the purposes of discovery and pre-trial matters only.
A memorial alongside the creek serves as a reminder of what happened that day.
Josh 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,” said Mosier.
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,” said Mosier.
As Mosier stood on the bridge with WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney, he said Felina Lewis and the kids likely never saw it coming.
“By the time you get around that curve, you have what — a second or two to react,” said Mosier.
Mosier said he’s filing a lawsuit in the hopes of promoting better training and protocols for 911 operations.
"The thing that scares me the most is someone else being in this position,” said Mosier. “It's so it doesn't happen again. So there's not another father, another family standing here talking to you."
Josh Mosier’s lawsuit is still pending and has not yet been scheduled for trial.
Some of the other families who lost loved ones in the flooding have also filed lawsuits.
National Emergency Number Association weighs in
WRTV Investigates reached out to an expert to get some insight on how 911 operators should handle calls about a washed-out bridge or roadway.
We spoke with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), a non-profit that focuses on standards, education and government affairs related to 911.
April Heinze, NENA’s 911 & PSAPs Operations Director, said protocols vary from state to state and county to county.
Heinze said in general, calls about a washed-out bridge or roadway would usually be handled as a traffic hazard and would prompt an operator to send law enforcement or the fire department.
The 911 operator may even ask the caller to stay within a safe distance with their hazard lights on to alert other drivers until help could arrive.
“It would likely be entered as a traffic hazard and you would send law enforcement and maybe fire if that's what the local protocol is,” said Heinze. “More than likely you're going to have the person stand by and have their flashers on if the person is willing to do so. You can't force someone to stay in that situation.”
Heinze said if a caller decided to stay, they would need to be careful.
“We don't want you to become a victim as well,” said Heinze. “Don't put yourself in harm's way but do what you can to slow things down. If somebody's flashers are on, people slow down because they are thinking OK what's going on. "
The Future of 911 in Indiana
NENA said the future of 911 will allow operators to get a more visual picture of what’s happening.
The state of Indiana is working on a next-generation 911 system that would allow you to share pictures and videos with 911 operators from your cellphone.
WRTV spoke with Ed Reuter, executive director of the Indiana statewide 911 board.
He said they’re working with counties and wireless providers to create a system that would allow call centers to get images from your cellphone.
"Because of the potential graphic imagery that could be coming across those systems, getting the 911 personnel trained so they're able to handle that side internally as telecommunicators,” said Reuter. “It's really stressful enough as it is with every 911 call and then you throw in the graphics along with that is why we have to prepare."
At this time, there’s no timeline for when this new system will be available.
Indiana averages 4,000,091 calls throughout the state every year.