Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sheriff suspends deputy who answered 911 call

Sheriff suspends deputy who answered 911 call

Rene Stutzman | Sentinel Staff Writer
November 16, 2007

SANFORD - Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger has suspended for 30 days the deputy who checked -- but quickly left -- the locked home of an 83-year-old widow who had called 911 as she was dying.

The woman's body was found the following day next to her phone, which was off the hook. Matilda "Tillie" Kovanich had bled to death.

Last week, the department concluded that Deputy Michelle "Missy" Ashby, 38, was guilty of neglect. But Eslinger waited until this week to decide how to punish her.

In a two-page memo made public Thursday, he wrote that Ashby's response was "woefully insufficient." He suspended her without pay for 30 days.

Ashby spent just three minutes at Kovanich's house Oct. 20, not nearly enough, Eslinger wrote.

Kovanich dialed 911 when she began to bleed profusely from her right foot. She said nothing to the dispatcher, however, according to department records.

Volusia County Medical Examiner Marie Herrmann, who performed the autopsy, told deputies that Kovanich likely died within seconds of placing the call.

Ashby arrived at the house four minutes after Kovanich called, according to department records.

Eslinger was unavailable for comment Thursday, but his memo criticized Ashby for waving off a backup officer before even approaching the house. She also should have talked to neighbors and checked her in-car computer for a log of 911 calls from the same address, the sheriff wrote.

If she had checked the computer, she would have seen that an elderly person had called for help from the same house before. Eslinger also faulted Ashby for dismissing a sign of trouble: bags of groceries on the floor inside an open side door, just behind a locked screen.

Kovanich's son, Joe Ruth, 59, of Wheaton, Ill., said he had mixed feelings about the suspension.

"I'm not really looking for vengeance; however, I am a little disappointed that it was a 30-day suspension," he said.

It should be longer, he said, although he was not sure by how much. The most important thing, he said, is that it not happen again.

A review of Ashby's personnel file shows that she is a popular officer, often praised by people whom she has helped.

Last year, when a bicyclist from Argentina got separated from his group while in Seminole, Ashby, out of her own pocket, paid for his hotel room because he had no money, according to department records.

In 1998, after she and paramedics were unable to save an elderly woman, Ashby kept returning to the woman's home to check on her 84-year-old widower. He called the department to thank her, according to agency records.

Ashby, who earns $44,600 a year, is a patrol officer. She was demoted from corporal in 2004 for failing to arrest an acquaintance whom she knew was named in an arrest warrant, according to her personnel file. She was faulted in that same investigation for using the department's equipment to run unauthorized criminal backgrounds check on friends.

Rene Stutzman can be reached at or 407-324-7294.

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