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  • City sued over local woman's murder

    Her ex-husband alleges 9-1-1 dispatchers could have done more to help
  • The family of a woman murdered on Interstate 5 two years ago is suing the city of Medford, alleging its 9-1-1 center mishandled her call for help.
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  • The family of a woman murdered on Interstate 5 two years ago is suing the city of Medford, alleging its 9-1-1 center mishandled her call for help.
    Jose Meraz is seeking a $3 million judgment for the alleged wrongful death of his ex-wife, Ana Bertha Meraz, on May 3, 2005. If the city's emergency dispatchers hadn't delayed the transmission of Ana Meraz's call to the appropriate authorities, the 32-year-old Medford woman wouldn't have bled to death, Jose Meraz says.
    The suit is the second in three years alleging negligence of Medford 9-1-1 operators who answered calls from a murder scene. Parents of 29-year-old Kerry Michele Repp sued the city in 2004 because one of its dispatchers disconnected a call from Repp in violation of local and national standards. Dismissed from Jackson County Circuit Court in 2005, the case now is before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
    "It seems like maybe there's a problem with the system," said Repp's mother, JoeAnn Johnson, 59, of Medford.
    Both cases scrutinize the victims' final moments alive.
    Ana Meraz called 9-1-1 from her cell phone at about 6 a.m. on May 3. She requested urgent medical attention before an unidentified man took the phone and said he had stopped to assist Meraz after seeing her vehicle weaving in traffic, Oregon State Police investigators said.
    OSP troopers and medics located Meraz's bleeding body lying beside her idling Chrysler Sebring convertible on the southbound shoulder of Interstate 5 near milepost 11. Stabbed multiple times, she died moments later, police said.
    Her suspected murderer, 31-year-old Jose Perez Silva, formerly of Phoenix, eluded police and is believed to be in Mexico. The Jackson County District Attorney's Office charged Perez with the crime and issued a warrant for his arrest. He and Meraz, who lived on Connell Avenue, were acquainted through a local church. Investigators said they did not know whether the unidentified man who took the phone was Perez.
    Repp phoned 9-1-1 from her Central Point home the morning of May 4, 2002. She was shot while sitting on the edge of her bed trying to call for help. Forensic analysts later found blood and pieces of her teeth on a cordless telephone hand set. Her husband, Gary Marvin Repp Jr., stood trial in 2004 for her murder.
    Former dispatcher Celia Jones testified during the trial she did not follow police department policy when handling the call. Dispatchers must either phone back if the caller doesn't respond or send officers to the address. At that time, Medford provided dispatching services for the city of Central Point, which did not renew its contract in 2004.
    Played for trial jurors, the taped 9-1-1 call captured a muffled voice — but no obvious words — and several popping or static-like sounds. Even if the call had been handled properly, city officials said Kerry Repp still would have died of her injuries, among them a gunshot to the heart.
    The jury found Gary Repp, 38, not guilty of his wife's murder. Arrested almost two weeks after the slaying, Repp testified to seeing his wife alive that morning before taking their sons to a T-ball game. No one else was charged with the crime.
    But Kerry Repp's parents filed their suit on the grounds that a prompt police response would have led to her murderer's arrest at the scene. They allege the aftermath of the mishandled 9-1-1 call, which came to light several months after Repp's murder, caused them physical, mental and emotional distress.
    "I think it was the worst thing that ever happened to us — when they found that 9-1-1 call," Johnson said.
    However, Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley, in dismissing the case, ruled the Johnsons' distress following their daughter's death did not arise out of physical injuries they suffered, as required by Oregon law. The Court of Appeals, which can rule outside the law, heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month.
    Unlike the Repp case, Jose Meraz is suing on the grounds of his ex-wife's own physical and mental pain and distress. He's also seeking compensation for economic damages to the estate of Ana Meraz, who had a 12-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter.
    Jose Meraz and the city could have come to an agreement on the facts of the case, said his attorney, Michael Kellington, if the city had provided transcripts of the 9-1-1 call.
    "In the absence of any kind of cooperation, we have to file the lawsuit to compel discovery," the Medford attorney said.
    Because the investigation of Ana Meraz's murder is ongoing, records of her 9-1-1 call are exempt from disclosure under Oregon public records law, said District Attorney Mark Huddleston. However, some records now may be subject to subpoena, he added.
    Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said he hadn't yet reviewed details of the lawsuit, filed June 6. Because, as deputy chief, he did not supervise the city's dispatching system at the time of Repp's murder, he said he could not compare that 9-1-1 call and the Meraz call.
    "I certainly hope these are not parallel issues," he said.
    Some delay would have been unavoidable in the Meraz case because she called from Interstate 5, where OSP has jurisdiction. OSP is the only local agency not connected to Medford's 9-1-1 center by computer, said JoLayne Fulmer, operations supervisor for Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications, which also serves the city of Ashland. RVCCOM must transmit dispatching information to OSP by phone, she said.
    Dispatchers also are unable to determine exact locations of cell phone calls, Fulmer said. Most new cell phones contain a feature that gives dispatchers coordinates for latitude and longitude. But sometimes dispatchers only get coordinates for the nearest cell tower, she said, adding that trying to pinpoint a moving target is nearly impossible.
    "If you're in a moving vehicle, you pretty much don't have a chance," Fulmer said.
    Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.
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