Texas hotel death sparks petition for in-room 911 dial-through

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 10, 2014 2:34 PM

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - A 9-year-old girl's vain attempt to reach police by calling 911 as her mother lay dying in a Texas hotel room has generated a national petition drive to require that emergency services be accessible from all hotel rooms simply by dialing 911.

The girl's mother, Kari Hunt Dunn, was stabbed to death on December 1 in the bathroom of a Baymont Suites motel room in Marshall, Texas, where she had intended to drop off three young children for a visit with their father, Brad Allen Dunn.

Dunn is being held on a charge of murder in the case but has not been indicted nor has he appeared in court to enter a plea, said a district court clerk in Harrison County, Texas.

The 9-year-old girl, whose name is not being released, called 911 from the room but got no response, according to her grandfather, Hank Hunt, who started the petition drive with a letter on the website change.org.

She did not know that she had to dial 9 first to get an outside line, he said on Friday.

"She said ‘I tried and tried but it didn't work,'" Hunt said. "She was taught to do what every child was taught to do - call 911."

More than 400,000 people have signed the petition for Congress posted on change.org since Hunt wrote the letter asking for signatures. The petition seeks a federal law - "Kari's Law" in honor of his deceased daughter - requiring 911 services from hotel rooms.

"My goal was 100 signatures, maybe just from friends and family," Hunt said. "I found out there are a whole lot of great people in this country and around the world."

Baymont Suites is part of the Wyndham Hotel Group. Calls to the Wyndham media relations office for comment were not immediately returned on Friday. A call to the American Hotel & Lodging Association was also not immediately returned.

Hunt said some hotels phone systems permit guests to reach emergency services by dialing 911, but others do not. Smaller hotel chains or independent motels may be less likely to offer that access, sometimes due to perceived cost, Hunt said.

But switching to 911 access is often more about reprogramming phones than buying new hardware, Hunt said. Hunt proposes that hotels get tax credits or grants, if necessary, to install the amended 911 systems.

The National Emergency Number Association has supported federal legislation to require 911 service from hotels, dormitories and similar residential buildings, said Trey Forgety, the group's government affairs director.

Forgety said any hotel built in the last 15 or 20 years has the capability of creating 911 access from rooms, and he does not sense strong opposition to the idea. The petition drive has raised public awareness of the issue and should help get the attention of Congress, he said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; editing by Gunna Dickson)