Virginia

Loudoun County Changes Emergency Response Policy After Teen Drowns

"It’s been over 30 minutes. He’s going to die," a 911 caller told dispatch after several calls

NBC Universal, Inc.

More than 30 minutes went by before rescue crews came to the scene where 16-year-old Fitz Thomas drowned.

Thomas and his friends were crossing Goose Creek the evening of June 4 when he disappeared underwater.

As the minutes ticked by, Thomas' friends cried and begged for help and adults screamed during repeated calls to 911.

Although the calls went to both Loudoun and Montgomery counties, and Thomas was in Virginia waters, only Montgomery County Fire and Rescue was dispatched.

Audio from the 911 calls shows their dispatcher alerted Loudoun County.

"Hey Loudoun, it’s Montgomery. Just giving you a heads up we are headed to our Edwards Ferry boat ramp for a water rescue."

Chopper 4 captured video of Montgomery County rescue boats in the water, unable to see or find the scene.

Local

Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information

Car Crashes Upside Down Into Hyattsville Home

Three Cars Set on Fire in Southeast DC

Thomas' friends called 911 again. Then, Sharon Koorbusch and her husband came upon the frantic scene.

"Clearly there was a jurisdiction issue between Maryland and Virginia ⁠— and when you're on the phone with 911, the last thing you want is to get transferred to somebody else in a different state and that’s exactly what happened," Koorbusch said in a video call with News4.

Koorbusch tried to explain the confusion to the dispatcher in her first 911 call.

"We’re down at the River Creek little park and some kids called in because it looks like a kid got … they can't find him. He’s in the water and it looks like the EMS went to the wrong side of the river…." Koorbusch says.

"Ma’am, just so you know, since he is in the river that’s in Montgomery so I do have to transfer you ok?" the dispatcher replies.

"It’s Goose Creek though!" Koorbusch says.

The teenage son of a prominent pastor was laid to rest on Saturday. Michelle Thomas has been a driving force behind the preservation of a cemetery for enslaved African Americans in Loudoun County. News4’s Julie Carey reports her family buried her son alongside those ancestors.

Koorbusch’s husband jumped in the water with the other teens and eventually they found Fitz. Her husband started CPR, but there was still no sign of emergency responders. She kept calling 911.

"Please get down here! River Creek Goose Creek at Confluence Park. They just pulled a kid out of the water. He’s drowned," she tells the dispatcher.

"Ok. What's the address there?"

"It’s River Creek Community … Come on. Can you please? … Loudoun County. Leesburg, Virginia. How are you not getting this?" Koorbusch says.

She later makes another call with an urgent warning.

"It’s been over 30 minutes. He’s going to die. I’m just telling you guys."

Loudoun County then dispatched emergency crews of their own. They arrived 35 minutes after the first 911 call. Thomas could not be revived.

The Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Department — which oversees emergency communications — is changing its policy, telling News4 in a statement: "911 operators will dispatch Loudoun units to any incident in adjoining waterways including the Potomac."

"The intention of this policy is to ensure that such a delay in dispatch never occurs again," the department said.

"I think it's a good step, right, it's a good step. Unfortunately, it took a major tragedy to make that step. Fitz couldn't be saved but there's an opportunity here to save other lives," Koorbusch said.

Thomas is the son of Michelle Thomas a prominent pastor in Loudoun County. Michelle Thomas said she will hold a news conference on Friday to call attention to the emergency response delays to her son's drowning.

Contact Us