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From the Archives: Handing a Line-Of-Duty Death - Dispatch To Eternity
Author: John M. Eller
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Originally Published in our July/August 1999 issue.
July 1, 1993: A brief radio encounter – tragic events that unfolded in a matter of minutes - changed the lives of two individuals forever, leaving one dead and the other with haunting memories, and leaving many more with unanswered questions due to.
Thursday, July 1st, was another busy night on the Chester, Pennsylvania, Police console. Chester is a city of 40,000, with the highest crime rate in the state, and the police were understaffed as usual. Six patrol officers worked to cover almost five square miles of crime, problems, and people. 39-year old Connie Hawkins, a three-year veteran of the force, was one of those officers.
Several miles away, behind the Chester City Console at the Delaware County 9-1-1 Center in Lima, was 22 year old Kevin Smith, with four years’ experience in the communications field. Dispatchers like Kevin have one major fear - to lose an officer. The words “Officer Down” are a dispatcher’s nightmare.
11:00 PM, a typical busy night. All six officers were assigned to calls. Smith received a call of a 9-1-1 hang-up call at 206 West Fifth Street. He attempted to call the number back and received no answer. Policy dictates that an officer must respond to all 9-1-1 hang-up calls to ascertain that everything is all right.
Two of the street officers were involved in making an arrest and another was at the hospital with an assault. Hawkins had finished assisting other officers and cleared a call.
Smith tried again to call the number back and again there was no response. He transmitted the 9-1-1 call to an available Chester car. Hawkins acknowledged the call and responded, even though it was two blocks outside of her beat.
While Officer Connie Hawkings drove towards 5th street, 50-year old Sherman Carver, an off duty Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Officer, was having a stormy relationship with his 46-old girlfriend, Marie Bates. Carver was banging on the door at 206 W. 5th, while Marie and her eight-year-old son, Odel, were inside. When his mother hurried to answer the door, the frightened boy attempted to dial 9-1-1. Carver entered the house and took the phone away from him.
Within a few minutes, Hawkins arrived at the house and knocked several times on the door. There was no response. She knocked again. Inside, Odel saw Carver take a gun out of his pocket and walk with it to the door. Carver pulled the door open and without warning shot Hawkins in the neck. Still conscious, Hawkins staggered backward off the porch and collapsed into the street.
Carver turned inside and shot Marie Bates four times, killing her. Then he walked outside and down the street, while neighbors frantically dialed 9-1-1. It was 10 minutes after the initial dispatch. One caller, watching from across the street, dialed the 9-1-1 center and said "Officer Shot!” Upon hearing those words, dispatcher Kevin Smith began to feel very cold. The nightmare had begun.
Many thoughts raced through his mind, but turmoil was breaking loose on the street and it was his job to deal with it. Within a minute, another voice screamed over the radio, "it doesn't look good.” In addition to all the confusion, there was a lot of radio congestion and interference. Supervisors and other personnel came to the Chester console to help Smith.
The word of an "Officer Down" spread quickly, and soon officers from the entire county were responding. William Ronan was one of them - Hawkins was on his squad. While en route, he encountered Carver, two blocks from the shooting scene. Carver fired once at Ronan but missed. Ronan returned fire, but both of his shots also missed. Carver entered a red Thunderbird and fled the scene. Ronan was able to provide a description of the suspect vehicle, which Smith broadcast over police radio.
He had also notified paramedics, an Emergency Response Team, the Delaware State Police Helicopter, the District Attorney's Criminal Investigation Homicide Unit, all of which were needed at the scene. Kevin was acting on instinct and training. That cold feeling wouldn’t leave, but he would not let his personal feelings interfere with what he had to do.
Carver fled south on Interstate 95 in the Thunderbird and sped across the state line into Delaware. At 12:30 AM, Sergeant Thomas Noonan of the Delaware State Police happened to stop Carver's vehicle on I-95 for speeding. Noonan determined Carver was under the influence of alcohol and placed him under arrest. He was unaware at the time of the initial car stop that he had just apprehended a cop killer. Once an ID check was done, Carver was held for Delaware County Authorities, and extradited to Pennsylvania on homicide charges.
Family and friends of both Hawkins and Bates had been directed to the hospital by the police on the scene. Connie Hawkins, police officer, wife and mother of a 17-year-old son, who had been found collapsed on the curb by her patrol car, was pronounced dead.
Marie Bates, mother of two, day care worker, and sister of Chester Township Police Officer Bret McNair, was also pronounced dead of multiple gunshot wounds.
Kevin Smith was relieved from the console at 12:30 AM, just about the same time Sherman Carver was being arrested in Delaware. Kevin broke down emotionally and physically. The feeling of coldness never left him. A member of Chester’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team debriefed him and provided support.
Smith questioned himself for a long, long time. What could he have done differently? Why did he send Hawkins on the call? Why didn't he wait for another unit? Haunting questions that if not dealt with could emotionally destroy a person.
The entire tragic incident ended with two innocent lives being taken needlessly, all because a 50-year-old Philadelphia Housing Authority Officer, despondent over his job, became involved in a domestic quarrel.
Connie Hawkins was buried a hero with full departmental honors on July 7, 1993, leaving a legacy remembered by many.
Marie Bates, a victim of domestic violence in its worst form, is missed and will long be remembered by her family.
Kevin Smith, 26, was recognized for his actions as a true professional in the face of tragedy. He was honored by the Delaware County Police Chief's Association by being designated as "Dispatcher of the Year" for 1993. Smith continued his duties as a police dispatcher at the Delaware County 9-1-1 Center in Lima. He entered the police academy in September, 1993, and is now serving as a Police Officer in Trainer Borough, Pennsylvania.
Sherman T. Carver was tried and convicted for the murders of Connie Hawkins and Marie Bates. He is currently sitting on Death Row in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, slowly exhausting the appeal process.
John M. Eller has been Police Chief in Brookhaven, Pennsylvania, since 1981. In addition to being the Police Chief columnist for 9-1-1 Magazine, he is a certified police instructor, consultant, criminal justice instructor, weekly newspaper columnist, and cablevision talk show host. Eller won an honorable mention award from the Police Writer’s Club for this article when it was presented at their Conference in 1998.
See related story: Handling a Line Of Duty Death - A Double Tragedy in Oakland, 1999, from July/August 199 issue.