Cobb mother’s death raises concerns over 911 delays

Neighbors of a Cobb woman who died Wednesday after a house fire say their calls to 911 are routinely transferred or dropped, resulting in critical time lost.

Cherriee Carter, 59, is survived by her son, who was trapped inside the burning house on Oakdale Road with her.

“I could hear the man screaming,” said Elizabeth Rutledge, a neighbor who tried calling 911 twice. “I couldn’t even tell him the fire department was on their way because I wasn’t able to get through.”

The Oakdale neighborhood sits at the border of Atlanta, Smyrna and Mableton in unincorporated Cobb County. As a result, 911 calls from cell phones may get picked up by towers in any of those three jurisdictions. 

Cobb Public Safety Director Sam Heaton said the Cobb 911 center received several calls about the fire Tuesday, including transferred calls.

“ ... Due to the fact this area is adjacent to the city of Atlanta by less than 400 feet, it is entirely possible that one or more of the callers hit on cell towers in the City of Atlanta,” he wrote in an email. “This in itself is not failure of any system, it is how cell phones and E911 have been designed.”

He added that the fire department’s eight-minute response time was a result of the closest fire engine being on another call. 

According to the county’s records, the address of the house that caught fire is within unincorporated Cobb County, he said.

Neighbors on either side of the Oakdale Road home say they pay Smyrna taxes. 

Rutledge lives on Evadale Trace to the north, while Ashley and Adam Gibby live on Haddon Place to the south.

The Gibbys said they have also had problems with emergency services.

Adam Gibby called 911 recently when his car was broken into, and has called in the past to report dangerous drivers cutting through their neighborhood.

He said he was routed to Atlanta before being placed on hold and then transferred to Cobb County and, finally, to Smyrna.

“Two minutes is a long time to wait if you have to report something,” Gibby said. 

His wife agreed.

“It could have been a matter of life or death,” she said.

Officer Louis Defense, spokesperson for the Smyrna Police Department, said the problem is not with the city’s 911 service, but rather the cell towers.

“We really have no control over where that call is sent,” he said.


The AJC's Meris Lutz keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Cobb County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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