The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 18, 2007

Couple accuse 911 responders of ignoring their pleas in shooting ordeal

EBENSBURG — A Portage man and woman out for an afternoon hike on a historic trail in Conemaugh Township say they were shot at repeatedly while they took cover in a ditch and their calls to 911 were ignored.

Cambria County emergency services officials say they are investigating the Nov. 4 incident. Rangers from the National Park Service, which owns the 2.5-mile Staple Bend Tunnel trail where the couple was hiking, also are investigating, as is the Conemaugh Township police department.

Meanwhile, hiking-biking trail advocates are concerned that the incident may fuel opposition to the expansion of trails in the Johnstown area.

“Never in my experience have there been reports of shootings on the trails,” said Dee Columbus, executive director of the county’s Conservation and Recreation Authority.

The Portage couple said they were terrorized for almost an hour, made several calls to 911 from a cell phone – and that police never responded.

“It was 47 minutes that we were pinned down,” the woman said. “Every time we would start to get up, the shooting would start again. Eventually it got quiet and we ran out.”

The couple, who do not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the 911 dispatcher kept telling them to stay put.

“What they did was wrong,” the woman said.

“As soon as we said we were being fired at, every nearby police department should have been called out.

“They blew us off. If you can’t call 911 and know you’ll get help, how can you ever feel safe?”

Carol Peretin, the county’s 911 director, said East Taylor Township police were notified of the couple’s call, but she refused to say whether whether they responded to the call.

She also refused a reporter’s request to listen to the 911 tapes.

“We’re looking into it, and I can’t give you any details,” she said.

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