911 audio from Alameda drowning released
Firefighters have said they did not enter the water because they were not certified to carry out water-land rescues
By Peter Hegarty and Matthias Gafni
The Oakland Tribune via The Contra Costa Times
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Dolores Berry pleaded with a police dispatcher to hurry and rescue her mentally ill stepson after he decided to kill himself by walking into the waters off an Alameda beach May 30.
"He's way out in the water right now. He's trying to drown himself!" Berry told a dispatcher from a cellphone borrowed from a passer-by.
"Hurry up. He's way out there," she said about Raymond Zack, who would die about an hour later. "He doesn't swim. Please hurry."
Critics nationwide have chastised Alameda's first responders for standing on the shore while Zack drowned in the shallow waters of Crown Memorial State Beach. Alameda police released 911 recordings, dispatch communication and logs, and other documents Wednesday after a public-records request from Bay Area News Group.
The tapes revealed a 1 hour, 15 minute effort by dispatchers to track down a boat to help rescue Zack, only to be turned down by nearby departments, including the Coast Guard, whose boat could not enter the shallow waters. A capable boat was finally found nearly an hour after the first call for help.
Throughout the incident, which began at 11:30 a.m., police and firefighters remained on the beach until a passer-by pulled Zack's body to shore at 12:30 p.m. Zack was pronounced dead a short time later at Alameda Hospital.
Officers remained on the beach because Zack was suicidal and potentially violent, police said. But they also said the 911 tapes help show their efforts to save Zack's life.
Firefighters have said they did not enter the water because they were not certified to carry out water-land rescues, saying the program was cut because of budget constraints.
Interim Alameda fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said Wednesday that Fire Department documents have been turned over to the city attorney's office for review. They will be made public within the next few days, acting City Manager Lisa Goldman said.
Mayor Marie Gilmore called Tuesday for an independent investigation into the incident.
Alameda resident Sharon Brunetti was walking on the beach when Berry flagged her down, saying Zack was in the water and suicidal, police records show.
Brunetti called 911 at 11:30 a.m. and then passed the phone to Berry.
Within two minutes, a dispatcher contacted the Alameda County Regional Emergency Communications Center, requesting Alameda firefighters be sent to the beach.
The dispatcher put Berry on hold as officers and firefighters began arriving. But when the dispatcher tried to again speak with Berry moments later, she was distraught and having difficulty answering questions.
The dispatcher asked if Zack had tried to commit suicide before, and his stepmother told her: "Yes, the way he's doing it now. "... Oh, god!"
As Berry cried into the phone, she exclaimed: "Now we don't see him any more!"
Brunetti hung up when police arrived at the beach.
Four minutes after police received that 911 call, an Alameda police dispatcher contacted the Coast Guard, police records show, and was told they could not arrive for 40 minutes. Throughout the ordeal, however, the Coast Guard boat and helicopter never assisted.
At noon, a Coast Guard commander, presumably from the Alameda station, arrived at the beach to help supervise, but the agency's personnel eventually said the water was too shallow to help.
The first police officer arrived at 11:34 a.m., and three minutes later Alameda firefighters showed up at the scene.
Over the next hour, dispatchers called four other agencies searching for a boat to respond but were told no boats were available. The Alameda County Fire Department has said dispatchers never asked them to send a boat, saying they only asked if one were available. Almost an hour into the ordeal, East Bay parks police called Alameda dispatchers to offer releasing a Zodiac boat stationed in Oakland. The boat, capable of entering shallow water, was eventually canceled.
Onshore at 11:36 a.m., police Officer Hank Morten reported Zack was standing in the water about 150 yards from the beach.
Witness Adolfo Munoz called at 12:06 p.m. from a second-story balcony and said he could see through binoculars Zack floating about 200 yards from shore.
"I can see him, but it looks like he's floating face down," Munoz said. "He looks like he's fully dressed, so something is odd."
About the same time, an officer on the beach told dispatch: "He's no longer above water and he's too far out for us to reach him."
At 12:24 p.m., an Alameda police officer asked dispatch if a sheriff search-and-rescue team was available for a "salvage."
Three minutes later, the officer reported: "We got a volunteer that is going into the water to do the recovery."
The woman pulled Zack's body from the water at 12:30 p.m. and firefighters began CPR when he was onshore two minutes later. At 12:37 p.m., Zack was taken by ambulance to Alameda Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy is pending.
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