Atlanta tactical ambulance idle as nearby SWAT scene unfolded
An Atlanta man waited hours before law enforcement discovered his mother’s lifeless body, because they couldn’t track down an ambulance.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - When you call 911, you expect help quickly. But as Atlanta News First Investigates uncovered in our extensive reporting last year, that doesn’t always happen.
Case in point: An Atlanta man waited hours before law enforcement discovered his mother’s lifeless body because they couldn’t track down an ambulance.
As he flips through the pages of an old photo album, Taurus Baker’s eyes light up.
“That’s my mama right here,” Baker said.
Baker is talking about 65-year-old Cassandra Williams, the matriarch, with five children and nine grandchildren.
“My mother was full of life. She was a happy woman, and she was a light,” he said.
Baker cherishes the memories of his mother. Williams’ life was cut short by a tragedy Baker never saw coming.
Williams was living with her boyfriend, Curtis Lilly, in northwest Atlanta, this past October. Her children began to worry after they hadn’t heard from her in a week, which was unusual, so they went to their house and demanded answers.
“I start talking to the door,” Baker said. “I said, ‘I know my mama in the there. Open the door.’ At that point, he communicated back with curse words. ‘Get away from the door. I’m a shoot through the door,’ etc. etc..”
A Deadly Delay
Shaken up and scared, Baker went back to his car and dialed 911. It was a Saturday in October, just after 8 p.m.
“I need an APD officer to come over here and make him open this damn door,” Baker told a 911 dispatcher.
By 9 p.m., police had not arrived, so Baker called 911 again after, Baker said, Lily fired a gun at him.
“Dude just shot out the g***amn window at us,” Baker told the dispatcher. “APD should’ve been here by now. It’s been 30 minutes. We’ve been waiting on APD. Ain’t nobody f***ing showed up.”
“OK, we’ll get someone out there,” the dispatcher responded.
According to the incident report, Atlanta police arrived at 9:30 p.m. for a “welfare check.” Lily refused to open the door and barricaded himself inside. That’s when EMS and SWAT were called.
SWAT arrived at 11 p.m. but waited outside for more than two hours. According to dispatch recordings, it was because a Grady EMS ambulance had still not arrived.
An Atlanta police dispatcher told a Grady EMS dispatcher: “The SWAT team is on the scene and they’re ready to make entry. But prior to them making entry to the location, they want Grady to be there because we’re not sure if in fact, he did shoot a female, and we’re not sure she’s deceased or not. But they want EMS on scene prior to them making entry.”
“We requested an EMS unit to standby for 2001 North Avenue Northwest,” another Atlanta Police dispatcher told another Grady EMS dispatcher. And we’re checking to see where the Grady unit that’s supposed to be staging is.”
“We don’t have anybody for it,” the Grady EMS dispatcher responded.
By the time an ambulance arrived, and SWAT broke down the door, Cassandra Williams was dead, stabbed dozens of times. Curtis Lilly was arrested at the scene.
“If they would have been more swift in their actions, there would have been a possibility of my mother still breathing here today,” Baker said.
Atlanta News First Investigates has requested her autopsy report, but Fulton County Medical Examiner says it is not yet available. Atlanta Police have also not confirmed her time of death.
Ambulance Five Miles Away
While the family waited for an ambulance to show up to their mother’s home, Atlanta News First Investigates uncovered there was another ambulance in the city, idling just five miles away: the city of Atlanta Tactical EMS (ATEMS).
The ambulance was purchased in 2018 for $138,000. According to an Instagram post, it specializes in “immediate medical services in unique and hostile situations for Atlanta law enforcement.”
On the night of the incident, ATEMS was parked outside the Downtown Hyatt Regency at Mayor Andre Dickens’ senior ball.
“In my opinion, any kind of active situation should certainly overrule that,” Dustin Hillis, an Atlanta city councilman and chair of the council’s public safety committee, said.
Hillis doesn’t have a problem with ATEMS being used for dignitary detail, if it’s able to switch gears. But that didn’t happen here.
When asked if he believes the tactical ambulance should have been reassigned in this situation, Hillis responded, “No doubt. It should have been reassigned. And some changes obviously, in my opinion, need to be made.”
For months, Atlanta News First Investigates asked the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD) how many times the city’s tactical ambulance was used last year. Eventually, the department provided records showing the ambulance sat unused 331 days in 2022. Of the 36 times it was activated, more than half were in SWAT situations, while five were on dignitary detail.
Baker and his family wish the tactical ambulance would have been used on the day that mattered most.
“Time is of the essence when people are in those situations,” Baker said. “And they didn’t treat my mom’s life as time was of the essence.”
When Atlanta News First Investigates asked Grady EMS about the delays, a spokesperson said, “APD SWAT was pleased with our support, and AFRD has not made us aware of any issues.”
When Atlanta News First took its questions to Atlanta Police, the department said to contact AFRD. The department confirmed ATEMS was not reassigned to the incident and that the unit was “not activated due to being on another assignment.” Dickens’ office has thus far denied requests for an interview or a statement.
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