WRENTHAM — A police dispatcher failed to send an officer to handle a dispute at a Route 1 motel just minutes before a housekeeper was struck by a pickup truck and dragged down the highway to her death, police said Tuesday.
Lieutenant Detective Bill McGrath of the Wrentham Police Department said the dispatcher told the owner of the Arbor Inn, who had called the police, that she would send an officer to help with some guests who were in a room without paying. But she did not, and six minutes later a 911 call reported that Kanchanben Patel, 58, had been hit and dragged by a truck, allegedly driven by the man who had prompted the initial call.
McGrath said an internal investigation into the handling of the Nov. 18 call found that the veteran dispatcher, Deborah Finnegan, “could not provide a reason she didn’t send a car.”
“It’s clear to me it was an unintentional error,” McGrath said at police headquarters, where held a press conference to release the findings of the investigation. “This was an oversight, not a conscious thought.”
Finnegan, who has worked at the department for 15 years, has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which is seeking to determine her fitness for duty, McGrath said.
He said that Finnegan could face disciplinary action, but said it was “way too soon” to say whether she could lose her job.
McGrath said the initial call came on the department’s business line, rather than 911, and that there was “no indication of anyone being in danger or potential danger.” He said that even if the dispatcher had sent a cruiser to the hotel, the officer would not have rushed to the scene with lights and sirens.
“I don’t think we can say the outcome would have changed” if a cruiser had been sent, he said. “It’s impossible to tell. There are just too many factors to consider.”
The first call ended at 9:56 p.m., according to a police timeline. At 10:02 p.m., a 911 call, placed from a travel plaza two buildings north of the motel, reported someone being dragged down the highway.
Three minutes later, the Arbor Inn called 911. Police arrived almost immediately.
McGrath said that while Finnegan’s failure to send a cruiser violated protocol, he was confident police would have responded if it had been “a higher priority call.”
Just before the call, police and rescue personnel were dispatched to a medical call for a man suffering a heart attack, McGrath added.
Finnegan is “devastated” over what happened, he said.
The department said it was “deeply saddened such a tragedy occurred” and extended its sympathies to Patel’s family.
A man at the front desk of the motel declined to comment Tuesday.
Patel and her husband, Dahyabhai Patel, were hit after motel staff confronted Moses Acloque and his friend about the bill for their room, where they apparently had gone to watch a New England Patriots game, authorities say.
Police say Acloque, 22, of Norwood, sped out of the parking lot, accelerating so quickly the truck left a long burnout patch. Patel’s body was dragged under the vehicle for about 3 miles into Foxborough, police said.
When Acloque stepped out of his truck and saw the body, he and his friend got back inside and were about to drive away when a state trooper arrived, police said. Dahyabhai Patel sustained minor injuries.
Acloque was charged with motor vehicle homicide and leaving the scene of a crash. He has pleaded not guilty.
Acloque was driving with a suspended license after failing to pay a citation, according to state records. He received a second suspension in July after being cited for three driving infractions in two years.
At Acloque’s arraignment in November, his lawyer, Rudy Miller, said his client “ran away in fear” after being attacked by a group of people, including motel staff.
Acloque, who was released on $3,000 bail, is due back in court for a probable cause hearing Dec. 19.