Diane Cheatham was on the third floor of her Urban Reserve home May 12 when she heard a young woman screaming outside. She dialed 911 while running down the stairs and into her driveway, where a woman lay injured from knife wounds.
“She was bleeding like crazy,” says Cheatham, who recognized the victim as a frequent walker from the neighborhood. She summoned a retired doctor living down the street, and he began administering aid. She called the victim’s husband at work in McKinney, and the poor guy raced to the scene.
And they waited. And they waited.
Cheatham’s call was picked up by a 911 operator at 6:58 p.m., WFAA reports, but the call wasn’t dispatched to Dallas police officers until 7:11. Officers arrived on the scene at 7:20, about 22 minutes after Cheatham called for help.
“That seems like a long time, especially when you’re just waiting,” says Cheatham. “Her hands were cut from grabbing the knife, and she was cut on the left side of the neck. She’s a young woman, and she was scared. I just tried to calm her and let her know she was among friends. We were going to take care of her.”
Stabbings fall into the “priority one” category, and the Dallas Police Department has targeted these calls to keep response times under eight minutes. Cheatham’s call took almost 3 times as long. Dallas Fire Rescue arrived before DPD but had to wait nearby. Policy prohibits their crews from approaching the victim until police arrive to secure the scene.
“That sort of makes sense unless you’re the one laying there about to die,” says Cheatham.
Cheatham has high praise for Dallas police officers, who captured the attacker a few days after the stabbing.
“Turns out he’s a homeless guy who lives near the Forest Lane DART station,” she says. “He walked up and spoke to her, and she’s a nice person who spoke back to him. Police used heat seeking sensors to catch him, and when the Dallas police go after their man, they get him.”
She also commends every person she interacted with the night of the attack, from the 911 dispatcher to the police officers to the paramedics to the firefighters.
“They were exceedingly professional, exceedingly nice and took control of the situation. We couldn’t have asked for them to handle it any better. The problem is the response time, and I strongly believe it’s a management problem. I’m told they are 31 call operators short, and that seems like a lot.”
Emergency dispatchers in Dallas make less than $20 per hour, and the Dallas Police Association says there simply are not enough dispatchers to handle the number of calls. Some 911 callers have reported getting a recording and being asked to leave a message when they call for help.
“If they aren’t paid enough, then the city needs to react to that and take care of that,” she says. “We have management that is just not doing their job.”
Cheatham recalls the machete-wielding man who attacked a jogger on the Lake Highlands trails in 2015 but says “nothing like this has ever happened” in her fashionable Urban Reserve neighborhood, which sits between Forest and Royal, east of 75. “But the homeless situation is totally out of control. I keep hearing ‘the city is doing this and doing that.’ Well, efforts don’t count. Results count.”
The stabbing victim is recovering from her injuries.