By Grayson Kamm
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Investigators have released the first 911 calls heard by dispatchers in the minutes after last week's parking garage collapse.
Willie Edwards III, a father of two, died in last Thursday's construction collapse at the Berkman Plaza II. His funeral will be held Saturday morning at Bethel Baptist Church.
The 911 calls released Friday record the rattled voices of five people. They captured what it was like to stand along Bay Street in the moments after the parking garage under construction next to the Berkman Plaza II collapsed.
JSO's dispatchers are deep inside the Police Memorial Building, so even though the collapse happened right across the street, they didn't know about it until the first emergency call.
"Jacksonville Sheriff's Office," the dispatcher said. "Hey! This building across the street from the [Police Memorial Building] just fell. You have people entrapped," the first caller said.
"A building fell?" the dispatcher asked. "The whole building fell -- the left side of it," the caller answered.
The second call came from a dispatcher with Florida Rock. He got a call from one of his crews that had been pouring concrete.
"Bay Street, across the street from the police department, at the Berkman Plaza. There's been a major accident out there. I think one of the floors collapsed," the caller said.
The third call released by police is the most chilling.
"We have a big emergency," the caller said, with a frantic edge to his voice. "What is it?" asked the dispatcher. "A building collapse," came the answer.
"What building?" the dispatcher asked. "Uh, 500 East Bay Street," the caller said, clearly struggling to stay focused on the phone call.
"Is anyone in the building?" the dispatcher asked. "Uh, yeah. There's a garage where they were pouring concrete, and the whole thing collapsed," said the caller.
"Is anyone in the building?" the dispatcher asked again, hoping for more details.
"Yes, there is -- quite a few," the caller said, as emotion rose in his voice. "Quite a few. I'd say over 20," the caller continued. After a pause of several seconds, the caller let out a deep sigh.
As the dispatcher typed in this caller's information, you can hear panic in the background, amid the dusty smoke on Bay Street.
Shouts were traded between people in the distance, and then the caller muttered, almost to himself, "There's people everywhere."
The dispatcher's voice brings the caller back to the moment, "And you said there's about 20 people trapped underneath, correct?"
"Yes. Need many rescue," was the caller's answer.
By the fourth call, dispatchers could grasp what they were dealing with.
"What happened there, sir?" a dispatcher asked, once it was clear the call was related to the collapse. "We have a parking -- we have a five story parking garage collapse. We have people under the building," said the caller.
The final call released by police is the voice of a man who watched it all from just down the street.
"Anybody trapped in there?" the dispatcher asked. "I don't know, I just saw it when it tumbled down," answered the caller.
And each call ended with a promise from dispatchers: help was coming.
"We're on our way, sir. We've got police and we've got fire-rescue on the way out there," the dispatcher from the fifth call said reassuringly.
What value do these 911 tapes hold?
For one, investigators can use them to piece together a moment-by-moment timeline of the first minutes after the incident.
Plus -- dispatchers, police, and rescuers can use the tapes to study how they responded to this emergency as they plan for the future.
First Coast News