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US: Better 911 contacts might have foiled fatal bike crash

FILE- In this June 9, 2016 file photo, mangled bicycles are tagged as evidence at the Michigan State Police crime lab in Kalamazoo, Mich. The National Transportation Safety Board says better communication between police agencies might have prevented the deaths of five bicyclists last year in southwestern Michigan. A pickup truck plowed into cyclists on a rural road near Kalamazoo last June. The NTSB says 22 minutes passed between the first 911 call about an erratic driver and the crash. The board says Charles Pickett Jr. might have been stopped if dispatchers for three police agencies had shared more information. (Mark Bugnaski/Kalamazoo Gazette-MLive Media Group via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — A crash that killed five bicyclists in southwestern Michigan might have been prevented by better communication between 911 dispatchers who got three calls about a reckless driver before he plowed into a pack of riders on a rural road, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The dispatchers, who worked for three different police agencies in Kalamazoo County, had “limited communication” with each other in the 22 minutes between the first 911 call and the crash last June, the NTSB said in an April 11 report.

Five cyclists were killed and four more were injured in Kalamazoo County’s Cooper Township, 140 miles west of Detroit. Charles Pickett Jr. is facing charges of second-degree murder and driving under the influence of drugs.

“Had they shared information more effectively, police officers from adjoining jurisdictions might have had sufficient time to intercept the driver before the collision with the cyclists,” the NTSB said, in a 3-1 decision, referring to dispatchers.

The NTSB is an agency known for investigating airplane crashes, commercial truck mishaps and train derailments. But investigators were sent to Michigan last summer to determine if anything could be learned to prevent a similar tragedy involving bikes.

The NTSB said dispatchers working for Kalamazoo city, the county sheriff’s office and Kalamazoo Township each received 911 calls minutes apart about an erratic pickup truck. The sheriff’s dispatcher sent an “electronic lookout message,” but dispatchers with the city and township didn’t share it with their officers, the report said.

A Kalamazoo Township dispatcher got a detailed description of the truck and the license plate, and shared it with an officer. But the NTSB said city and county dispatchers weren’t informed.

Pickett traveled 14 miles between the first 911 call and the crash, the report said.

Kalamazoo County is moving toward a dispatch system that would consolidate communications for police departments and fire departments. The target is spring 2018. Voters will decide on May 2 whether to raise a monthly phone tax to $2.30 from 42 cents.

“It is vital to public safety that the sharing of dispatch information among nearby jurisdictions be improved” in the interim, the NTSB said.

Jeff Troyer, who was hired last year to lead a consolidated dispatch service, declined to comment on the report.

NTSB member Earl Weener disagreed that better communication could have prevented the crash.

“It is very difficult to speculate that had they been given a license plate number, or received any other information minutes earlier, they could have acted in time,” he said of officers.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

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