St. John Emergency Responder Dies After Nine Calls to 911 Go Unanswered

The Health Department dedicated a state-of-the art ambulance boat in Sprauve's name in 2015. The vessel sustained minor damage in the passage of Hurricane Irma. After it was repaired a few weeks later, Sprauve took the wheel and guided it back to Cruz Bay.
The Health Department dedicated a state-of-the art ambulance boat in Liston Sprauve’s name in 2011. The vessel sustained minor damage in the passage of Hurricane Irma. After it was repaired a few weeks later, Sprauve took the wheel and guided it back to Cruz Bay.

When an emergency responder on St. John suffered a health crisis, repeated calls to the 911 center went unanswered and by the time help could be summoned, the man had died, his brother said.

When the victim, Liston Sprauve, told a relative to call for help, no one picked up the phone at the 911 call center. Instead, that relative said, he got a recording informing him he dialed the wrong number.

By the time the relative rushed out of the house to summon help six blocks away, it was too late.

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Sprauve, 74, namesake for the island’s ambulance boat, the Liston “Huntie” Sprauve, was dead.

His brother, former Senator-At-Large Elroy Sprauve, said an emergency medical crew from Morris F. deCastro Clinic, raced three blocks through the town and another three blocks up a steep hill after he showed up at their door with a personal plea for help.

“I was glad I went. They came right away,” he said. “They did the best they could, they really worked hard.”

The emergency calls that got no response were placed around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Elroy Sprauve said. Between eight and nine calls were made, he said.

A memorial ribbon sits in the chair where ambulance boat driver Liston Sprauve awaited the call to duty each day until his death on Aug. 29.
A memorial ribbon sits in the chair where ambulance boat driver Liston Sprauve awaited the call to duty each day until his death on Aug. 29.

“My brother just came home. After he came in he called to me and told me, ‘Elroy, call 911. I’m not feeling well’,” he said. “I called, I used both phones. The phone I used most was the cell phone, but I used the other phone too. The recording said ‘You have the wrong number.”

Liston Sprauve began work with the Department of Health in 1971, starting out as an assistant and a mechanic on the ambulance boat. Over the course of service, he also underwent EMS training to assist land-based ambulance crews.

He continued serving through 2011, when a state-of-the-art catamaran built by Gold Coast Yachts arrived on island and was dedicated in his name.

When the vessel was damaged in the passage of Hurricane Irma last year, Elroy Sprauve said his brother was behind the wheel on the voyage back from St. Croix for repairs.

Attempts to reach officials at the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency about the Aug. 29 incident were unsuccessful. The one notation about the Wednesday night emergency appeared in the records of the Leander Jurgen Police Command in Cruz Bay.

That record notes that an E. Sprauve called the police station at 8:25 p.m. to report someone found dead on arrival in Estate Enighed.

Emergency response call system failures has been an issue in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands since the passage of Irma and Hurricane Maria. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced restoration of 911 service Oct. 11, but problems with wired and wireless system outages across the hurricane zone reached the Federal Communications Commission several weeks later.

An item appearing in a telecommunications industry newsletter in March cited FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposing a $954 million plan to restore and expand networks in Puerto Rico and the V.I.

“This comes after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, which resulted in wide PSAPs, 911 call centers, and wireless service outages … the FCC continues to provide status reports on the public safety and connectivity conditions of the islands until communications are fully restored,” said the publication from Keller and Heckman LLP.

The handling of DOA calls has also been a problem on St. John since June, when volunteers at St. John Rescue could not reach an agreement with the Justice Department over a memorandum of understanding that would allow them to continue providing a service they’ve performed on islands for the past 10 years.

An inquiry made to Attorney General Claude Walker in mid-August produced a statement indicating no progress had been made in reaching a deal.

But Elroy Sprauve said Rescue volunteers showed up to assist the night his brother died. He was asked if he thought the six minutes it took for him to run for help and the time it took for responders to arrive would have made a difference in the outcome.

“I can’t say for sure,” the surviving brother said.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Would this be a case for negligent homicide? Someone is responsible. There is no way 911 should be down – regardless of which phone / carrier is used.

    VITEMA, VI Goverment, FCC? Where does the buck stop?

  2. Our sincerest condolences to this family. It’s tragic and especially that he was a first responder that lived to help others. Agree with Salty Dog, let’s figure out how to fix this before it happens again. This is a lifeline we all depend on.

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