Sunday, March 9, 2008

4 Minutes, 22 Seconds

Yesterday I was paid $250.00 by a focus group to be part of a mock jury. As I filled out a checklist beforehand regarding my familiarity with certain companies or law firms, I sensed what trial would be covered. Back in October of 2003, a fire broke out at 5 PM on a Friday. We listened to the prosecuting attorney (in abbreviated form) and the defense attorneys. We watched videos and we listened to 911 tapes. Six people died and twenty-two injured, all from smoke inhalation. The entire "event," including our "deliberation," took eight hours.

I have written about the Our Lady of Angels fire in 1958, the fireman Richard Scheidt in the photo lives only blocks away in Oak Lawn. I've read transcripts of calls made from the World Trade Center and seen images of falling bodies from both fires, the kids at the Catholic school jumping from the second floor. I've read transcipts of the phone calls from United 93, and of the people on the left aisle of Flight 175 talking to their families, and as the plane tilted enough they could see their target was the South Tower. But never were those calls heard in their entirety, only described, from FoxNews to Wikipedia. Much of the OLA fire was written up in LOOK magazine. More quotes, made distant by time.

Yesterday I listened to a 911 call made by a woman whose name I will always remember. She called from her cell phone while on the 12th floor of the burning building. The 911 call taker tried to keep her talking, keep her conscious. The call lasted for four minutes and twenty-two seconds. We heard the voices and saw the transcript via PowerPoint and a court reporter. The woman talked and prayed, her voice getting weaker. I always hate the phrase "fell unconscious" as if it is a conscious thing to do, or whatever I'm trying to say. This woman lost consciousness after almost four and a half minutes that the twelve of us listened to. And then she died. The fire started at 5:00, the first ladder truck arrived at 5:03. The woman's body, and five others, were found at 6:50 PM. I've heard that woman's voice for over twenty-four hours now.........Wayne