Mother of the Interstate 81 homicide victim pushes for better telecommunications on the highway

FCC offers financial support for cell phone carriers to improve coverage

WHAG NEWS - On Jan. 4, 2014, 28-year-old Timothy “Asti” Davison, was traveling home to Portland, Maine when he was shot and killed.

Some of his last words were heard in recorded calls to emergency services. 

9-1-1 Operator: "You were the one that called about the Ford Ranger, right?"
Davison: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. The one that just hit me."
9-1-1 Operator: "What do you mean? They hit you with the car or...?"
Davison: "Yeah, smashed me with the car and pushed me across the median."

This week, Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) made an arrest in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. PSP charged John Wayne Strawser Jr. with first-degree murder for Davison's death.

“The arrest of this violent individual marks another step in our pursuit for the Davison family,” said Capt. Adam Kosheba, commander for the Harrisburg Barrack of Pennsylvania State Police

Police said Davison called 911 twice that night, and one of his calls dropped as he crossed the Maryland state line into Pennsylvania.

“The call dropped certainly did not help matters. We don't want any emergency calls to drop to us,” said Lt. Jonathan Mays with Pennsylvania State Police.

For Davison’s mother, Theresa Allocca, it's one dropped call too many.

“Every time you pay your cell phone bill, you're paying for 911 coverage,” Allocca said. “So, the fact that we're not getting that when we're supposed to be - its disheartening, it’s disturbing, really.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission, wireless coverage is not covered by their agency, but they do provide financial support for cell phone carriers to improve and increase their coverage in rural areas.

All four carriers, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have cell towers along the Interstate 81. Even with several towers, Davison's 911 call dropped.

“Dropped calls happen when you're talking to your family back home. They'll happen if you're calling 911. It doesn't happen often - it's a rare occurrence, but when it happens, we immediately start calling back,” said Dave Donohue, director for Franklin County Emergency Management.

But before sending help your way, dispatchers said there's one thing they really need to know.

“We understand that you may have had a major incident occur to you, but your location is key. Without the location, we can't come assist you,” said Alan Crawford, deputy director for Washington County Emergency Services.

Cell phone providers are responding to the need for reliable 911 communication. Under FCC rules, all wireless carriers must provide text to 911 for any emergency dispatch center requesting this service.

Franklin County has text to 911 available with the four major carriers. Washington and Berkeley counties are working on getting the service. 

It's another option when there's an emergency, but officials advise you only use it when necessary, because they said calls are still the best option.

“We're listening to background noise. We're listening to the tone of the voice, and we're using listening skills, not just what the caller is saying,” said Mary Kackley, director of 911 for Berkely County. “That's not going to happen with texting. There's no emotion in that texting.”

But calls can be dropped, and on I-81, that's an issue and for those affected by dropped emergency calls, things need to change. Shortly after Davison's death, senators from Maine and Pennsylvania joined forces and challenged the FCC to investigate what happened that night.

“You ought to be able to get 911 coverage wherever you are in the country - that's got to be the goal,” said Senator Bob Casey, (D) Pennsylvania.

Sen. Casey said Congress hasn't done enough to fix this issue. He believes we need more funding for broadband capabilities, which would prevent cell phone coverage from dropping

“Members of Congress, we have to take our own responsibility to sit down and negotiate appropriation bills that will allow us to have the opportunity to make the right investments in infrastructure,” Casey said.

In addition to better wireless connections, Theresa Allocca believes there should be more signs along the interstate with information to the nearest police station. She believes these signs would be helpful, especially for out of state drivers.

“Especially in ‘Asti's’ case, if he would have known that the police barracks was just another exit up or two, he would have continued and not slowed down,” Allocca said.

While she said nothing will ever bring Asti back, Allocca said she’s relieved that police found her son’s killer. 

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