ST. GEORGE — What started as a crash in the parking lot of the St. George Consolidated Communications Center on  Monday quickly escalated into a life-or-death situation when an emergency dispatcher found an unresponsive driver and two small children in a car.

Julie Packer’s husband sits with a youngster at the St. George Consolidated Communications Center following a crash in St. George, Utah, Nov. 27, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Justin Grenier, St. George News

Officers and emergency personnel responded Monday to a call involving an overdose. They arrived at a parking lot on North 200 East to discover a crash scene, but a passenger reportedly had fled from the car and was later located and taken into custody by police, according to charging documents filed in support of the arrest. 

The incident was captured on a police scanner recording that provided a detailed outline of the events.

And the actions taken a few minutes prior to the call to 911 likely saved the life of the driver who was found unresponsive and pulled from the vehicle.  

St. George News contacted the St. George Consolidated Communications Center, which provides emergency dispatch coverage to the entire county, and spoke with Julie Packer, a 911 dispatcher who said that minutes before the call, she was walking through the parking lot to head into work when she heard “the loudest thud” she had ever heard. When she turned around, she saw that a vehicle had crashed into her minivan parked in the lot.  

Packer said as she ran to check on the driver, she could hear the sound of children crying, which is when she said another female jumped out of the passenger’s side and shouted “call 911, she’s taken something,” referring to the driver.

At that point, Packer said she told the passenger, “I am 911,” and asked what the driver had taken. The passenger did not respond as she ran through the parking lot. 

Meanwhile, Packer said she found the driver unresponsive and not breathing. She pulled the woman out of the car and started chest compressions while calling 911.   

Inside the communications center, Michael Higley took the call and within 12 seconds, the address was dispatched out to responders. Then he “took off and ran outside to help,” he said.  

While Packer was doing chest compressions, another bystander who worked in the building also heard the commotion and ran to the parking lot where she found the two young children, both preschoolers, crying in the backseat of the car.

She removed the youngsters just as Higley approached and took over chest compressions, freeing up Packer who took the two youngsters into the emergency dispatch center to get them out of the cool evening temperatures.  

Officers arrived within minutes of the call and administered Narcan, which had little effect on the driver who remained on the ground and unresponsive while Higley continued CPR, he said.

It wasn’t until the driver was administered the second shot that the woman started to come to, and they could see “signs of life return,” said Higley, adding that paramedics arrived and began to treat the woman who was then transported to St. George Regional Hospital for evaluation and treatment. 

Inside the call center, Packer was feeding and caring for the two children while her husband responded to the parking lot to check on the couple’s minivan. Once he arrived, she said, the 3-year-old toddler “clung to him” until the social worker arrived a few hours later.  

“Once my husband got there, the little boy became attached and just stayed with him” while she cared for the 1-year-old, she said.  

In the meantime, officers canvassed the area in search of the passenger who had fled on foot. She was located just north of the scene and was identified as Amelia Holiday McDougal, 20, of St. George. 

Officers determined McDougal was “clearly under the influence of an impairing substance,” and while speaking to police the she reportedly admitted to being in the car when the crash took place. She denied using any drugs and said she ran because she was afraid and “didn’t want to deal with the cops,” the officer noted in the report.

The hub of the St. George Consolidated Communications Center in St. George, Utah, Nov. 29, 2023 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The passenger was booked into jail facing a number of misdemeanor charges after she “left the scene of a crash after her friend overdosed, leaving her friend and two small children in the car,” the report stated. 

The children remained in the emergency dispatch center until they were turned over to the care of the social worker shortly after 8:30 p.m.

Both Packer and Higley attributed the favorable outcome to good training and timing since Packer was still making her way through the parking lot when the car crashed into her minivan, which enabled her to act quickly. Due to the ongoing training and recertification courses that are required as part of the job, both were skilled at performing CPR.

“I’ve probably done CPR over the phone hundreds of times,” Packer said. “But it was much different doing the chest compressions in the parking lot on a patient who was not breathing, which is when the training kicks in.”

Higley shared similar comments and credited the new location system upgrades that were implemented a few years ago, which made it easier to get to the car and Packer’s call made it possible to pinpoint her exact location.

Justin Grenier, communications manager for the emergency dispatch center, told St. George News that about two years ago, they integrated the Rapid SOS system, which sends real-time data captured from a number of connected devices, applications and sensors directly to the emergency dispatcher. This not only speeds up the process, he said, but it provides accurate location information, no matter where they are calling from.

It was that same system that allowed Higley to pinpoint exactly where Packer was doing chest compressions, he said. And while this incident involved a parking lot near the building, there are situations where a 911 caller may not know the address or where they are calling from.

Now, we do, Grenier said and added these upgrades have improved response times and services when they matter most, as evidenced by Monday’s incident.

“That is what we mean when we say that saving seconds saves lives,” Grenier added.

The driver remained in the hospital while the passenger was later booked into jail facing one count each of possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia, obstruction of justice and intoxication. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.