By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
“Gardendale 911, what’s your emergency?”
“I’ve been in a wreck and I don’t know where I am.”
“What are you close to, m’am?”
“I don’t know. It’s dark and I can hear cars around me. My car’s upside down.”
That’s how a 911 recording released last week by the Gardendale Police Department begins.
The recording was made on Jan. 10 after Gardendale resident Kris Marshall found herself disoriented and upside down in a ravine off Main Street, across from Gardendale First Baptist Church.
The dispatcher who took the call, Vicki Grigsby, received a departmental commendation last week for her professionalism and quick thinking during a frantic, stressful time for a Gardendale resident.
Before the wreck, Marshall had been shopping at the Western Supermarket on Main Street. When she left the store, she slipped on a rain-soaked curb and hit her head. Thinking she was uninjured, she got into her car and began to drive back to her Leslie Lane home.
“I got right to the end of the parking lot to take a left and I don’t remember anything other than seeing headlights coming at me and thinking how weird they looked,” Marhsall said.
She didn’t get far after suffering what turned out to be a concussion in the parking lot fall. Marshall drove only a short distance before losing consciousness. Her car crossed the northbound lane of traffic on Main Street and ran into a ravine and overturned.
The next thing she remembers after regaining consciousness was hearing her cell phone ring. It was her husband, Jeff, who had been frantically trying to reach his wife.
“I was able to get away from the seatbelt. I saw the light on my phone and I just answered it,” she said. “I just said, ‘I’ve been in a car accident and I don’t know where I am.’”
Jeff Marshall told his wife to call 911 and he did the same. Kris Marshall said she didn’t know how she was able to dial the number because she injured her eye in the accident and had blurred vision.
Throughout the call, which lasted longer than 20 minutes, Grigsby constantly offered reassurance to Marshall while also trying to direct emergency personnel to the vehicle.
Following the crash, the vehicle, a black 2007 Toyota Camry, lost all power, so there were no lights for emergency crews to see. The loss of power also meant that Marshall could not lower her windows or sound her horn to alert emergency workers or passers-by to her whereabouts.
“She was disoriented and she kept telling me she was cold and wanted to go to sleep and I kept telling her she couldn’t go to sleep,” Grigsby said. “She was worried about her daughter and was able to give me her husband’s cell phone number.”
Marshall’s 8-year-old daughter, Libby, was at home with her father that night instead of with her mom. “For me to not have had my daughter with me that night is a God thing,” she said. “She’s with me everywhere I go.”
Grigsby continued to talk to both Marshall and emergency crews simultaneously. She asked emergency workers to continue to sound sirens and air horns in hopes that she would be able to hear their proximity over Marshall’s cell phone. The dispatcher also continued to reassure the driver that she would be found.
After several minutes of crews driving slowly along Main Street, her car was finally spotted. Emergency crews and Marshall’s husband actually found her at the same time.
Marshall was then taken by ambulance to UAB Hospital where she was treated for her concussion and for her eye injury. She will find out on Monday if she will need surgery to correct the injury.
On Tuesday, Marshall and Grigsby met for the first time at the Gardendale Police Department where Marshall was able to thank the dispatcher personally for her kindness.
“She earned her pay and then some that night,” Marshall said. “I just really want people to know how important a 911 dispatcher is.”
Because of her experience with Grigsby that night, the Marshalls are now looking for a vehicle that also has OnStar emergency assistance capabilities.
Grigsby, who has worked at the Gardendale Police Department for more than six years, said she appreciates the commendation, but she was just doing her job.
“I’ve had a lot of people say I did a good job and I appreciate that,” she said. “It makes you feel good because you don’t always get that.”
By Adam Smith