Prominent Lawyer Seeking Answers in Death of Ohio Teen Trapped in Minivan
A prominent civil rights attorney is the latest to seek answers into what happened a year ago when a Cincinnati teenager became trapped in his family’s minivan near his school and died after making two heartrending appeals to 911 for rescue.
Al Gerhardstein has in recent weeks made sweeping records requests to the city and police about the failed response April 10, 2018, to Kyle Plush’s calls . The 16-year-old student eventually suffocated from having his chest compressed after he was apparently pinned by a foldaway rear seat when he reached for tennis gear while parked near his school.
“We’re investigating on behalf of the family,” Gerhardstein said. “That’s all I can say.”
He has asked for reports, recordings and other records on the 911 response. Much of that information has already been reported by The Associated Press and other news outlets, but the attorney is also trying to go deeply into any history of problems at the emergency center.
The veteran Cincinnati attorney has a history of litigation against the city and police, and he represented lead plaintiff James Obergefell in the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage.
The police department and city didn’t respond to requests for comment about Gerhardstein’s efforts.
The possibility of a lawsuit is the latest development in the year since Plush’s death. It led to multiple investigations and to improvements in the city’s 911 system technology, staffing, training and police procedures.
But the youth’s parents, who started a foundation to push for nationwide reforms, have expressed dissatisfaction .
Jill and Ron Plush took part repeatedly in city council meetings last year, pushing for reforms and accountability for their son’s death. Using the voice-activated feature on his cellphone, he had Siri dial 911, warning: “I’m going to die here.” He called again minutes later, this time describing his vehicle as a gold Honda Odyssey.
Two police officers drove around at the boy’s high school looking for him but left without getting out of their cruiser. Kyle’s father found his body nearly six hours after his first 911 call. Police have blamed communication breakdowns.
“I’m heartbroken,” Police Chief Eliot Isaac told the city council late last year, adding that officers and dispatchers are “heartbroken, as well, that they didn’t get the help to this young man. But we can sit here and we can Monday morning quarterback this thing — but the reality is there were some failures and some breakdowns, and we have to be better.”
There have also been questions raised about the safety of the 2004 Odyssey. Honda in 2017 recalled some 900,000 later-model Odysseys because of concerns about second-row seats tipping forward if not latched properly, but spokesman Chris Martin said there were no seat-related recalls of the 2004 model. Honda, he said, hasn’t been given access to the Plush vehicle.
“The bottom line is that we’re still interested in inspecting the vehicle in order to learn more about what may have happened,” Martin said in an email. “This is the only instance of its type, and there is no pattern of similar incidents from which to draw any conclusions. Even if we could inspect, there’s no guarantee that we could definitively say what happened.
“Thus, this one may remain a tragic mystery,” Martin said.
Meanwhile, the Plush family has pledged to memorialize him by continuing to push for 911 reforms across the nation and supporting emergency communications employees through a foundation in Kyle’s name.
“He would have wanted us to make changes, and to overcome obstacles to make changes to save lives so that this doesn’t happen again,” Jill Plush said recently at the Hancock County 911 Center, among visits the family and foundation volunteers made to several Indianapolis area centers, according to the Greenfield Daily Reporter newspaper.