Law allows pinging of cell phone signals in emergency situations
BY GINA KINSLOW firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — A piece of legislation requiring wireless telecommunication carriers to provide call location information from wireless devices to the Kentucky State Police under certain emergency conditions was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin a couple of weeks ago.
The law is being referred to as the Leah Carter Act.
Carter, 19, of Monroe County, died after her car became stalled and was swept off the Earl and Larry Lyons Bridge over East Fork Creek near Gamaliel on Dec. 31, 2018 by floodwaters.
Carter placed a 911 call to Monroe County’s dispatch center at 6:57 p.m. the night her car went over the bridge. Fire and rescue personnel, as well as law enforcement personnel, responded and immediately began searching for Carter, but they could not find her.
Her body was found six days after the search started on a river bank about five miles from where her car went over the bridge.
Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, was the lead sponsor of the legislation.
“It really clarifies and streamlines the process, making sure everybody knows when a personal cell phone can be pinged in case of an emergency. It just spells out who can do it, who can authorize it and the circumstances that have to be ongoing for that to happen,” he said.
In the past, it wasn’t really clear who had the authority to ping personal cell phones and it wasn’t spelled-out in statute.
“We said the public service answering points have to have a written program, a policy in place, everybody has to know about it,” Rowland said.
Also, the law states cell phone providers have to publish emergency contact information, which was something that had never before been said.
“Some of them may have been doing it. Some of them may not have been doing it,” he said.
The legislation has received strong support from emergency medical services, 911 dispatchers, state police and local emergency responders.
“Everybody was supportive of it,” he said.
Rowland said he’s not 100 percent sure if having this law in place the night Carter’s car went over the bridge could have helped search and rescue personnel find her more quickly.
“The family was very honest with me that even if this bill passed, if this law had been in place, had it been more clear that night, it likely wouldn’t have saved Leah,” he said. “It was too late when they were trying to do that. I think there was some confusion that night and I’m hearing all of that second-hand.”
The confusion he thinks that existed the night Carter died was who was trying to ping her cell phone, had it been requested and why it wasn’t requested sooner than it was.
“It was some time the next day before they were able to (ping her cell phone) from what I’ve heard,” Rowland said. “But again the family was very honest with me that even if they could have that night, they think it was likely too late.”
He continued that Carter’s family wanted to do something in her honor and he said he was glad to be a part of it.
The legislation was cosponsored by Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow; Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville; Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg; Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton; and Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence.
Riley joined Rowland in meeting with Carter’s family to try to create legislation that would give emergency agencies the capability to follow a ping on a call.
“She had called 911 and her mom also both during the time she was in peril,” Riley said. “Because of various circumstances, there wasn’t the expedience there needed to be in searching for her. In saying that, I’m not blaming anybody. The laws weren’t as open as they needed to be to allow that ping to be followed.”
Riley continued that he, Rowland and other sponsors of the legislation worked with the chairman of the Kentucky House of Representatives’ judiciary committee to make sure whatever legislation was passed would be able to stand a court test.
Similar legislation has passed in about 22 other states and is known as the Kelsey Smith Act.
“We kind of mirrored it off that legislation,” Rowland said.
The Kelsey Smith Act, a Kansas law, allows wireless telecommunication carriers to provide call information concerning telecommunication devices of the user to requesting law enforcement agencies in the event of an emergency.
Rowland received a message on Thursday from someone with the Kelsey Smith Foundation thanking him for getting similar legislation passed in Kentucky.
According to the foundation’s website, Smith, who had just graduated from high school, was abducted on June 2, 2007 from a department store. Three hours later her car was found in a mall parking lot. Surveillance video showed her abduction.
Her body was found four days later. Forensic evidence showed she had been sexually assaulted and strangled, the website said.
The Leah Carter Act was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin on March 26 and will go into effect in July.