When a 9-year-old girl tried to call 911 to report that her father allegedly ambushed her mother in December, she couldn’t get through because their hotel required guests to dial “9” first.
Brad Dunn was later charged with the murder of his estranged wife, Kari Hunt Dunn, in the Texas case that sparked a reexamination of security protocol in the hotel and tourism industry. Kari’s family joined Suffolk County lawmakers and supporters backing legislation that would require hotels and motels to update their phone systems to allow direct calls to police.
“She followed the instructions and she did not get help,” Hank Hunt, the victim’s father, told reporters Thursday during a news conference on Long Island. He wondered aloud if things could have turned out differently if one of his granddaughter’s four calls went through.
Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Solanga) and Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) proposed the bill, which passed the Public Safety Committee and will be subject of a public hearing at the legislature Tuesday. The proposal is among the first in the nation addressing the issue.
“We expect this [bill] to spread across the state and across the country,” said Trotta.
Hunt started a petition with more than 450,000 supporters on Change.org calling on Congress to pass “Kari’s Law,” proposed by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into the multi-line phone system used in hotels and motels. And the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHALA) polled its members on how guests reach help by dialing 911.
“The results came back pretty dismal,” said Hunt. The survey found that guests reach emergency services if they dial 911 without an access code in only 44.5 percent of franchise hotels and 32 percent of independent hotels.
“We want those rules to be the same across every state line,” said Hunt. “If you dial 911 from any phone, you’re going to get help.”
John Tsunis, chairman of New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, agreed.
“Can you imagine picking up a phone, desperate for emergency services, and dialing 911 and not being able to reach help,” he said. “Parents teach their kids to dial 911 in an emergency so it’s an important initiative that we drop the nine.”
The modification of phone systems has already made its way to the Holiday Inn Express in Stony Brook, where the press conference was held. It took only a day to install a new program for the communication service, Tsunis said.
Without such upgrades, the AHALA poll found that hotel guests have a one-in-three shot of dialing 911 and connecting to a dispatcher. Hunt hopes to turn the tragedy into an opportunity to create change that saves lives.
“I’m not doing it for Kari, but on behalf of her and any other people who have been affected by this problem,” concluded Hunt. “I would be somewhat relieved on my part that she didn’t die in vain.”