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Family of Cincinnati teen who died while trapped in car sue authorities over failed 911 call response

The family of a 16-year-old student who died trapped in a vehicle after a failed response to his two heartrending 911 calls sued the city of Cincinnati today.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Hamilton County charges the city, two 911 centre employees, two police officers and a former city official with actions the suit alleges led to Kyle Plush's death in 2018. Plush's parents have said the object of the lawsuit is to find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Using the voice-activated feature on his cellphone, the teen had Siri dial 911, warning: "I'm going to die here." He called again minutes later, this time describing his vehicle as a gold Honda Odyssey.

Two police officers drove around at the boy's high school looking for him but left without getting out of their cruiser.

He eventually suffocated from having his chest compressed after he was apparently pinned by a foldaway rear seat when he reached for tennis gear while parked near his school. Kyle's father found his body nearly six hours after his first 911 call.

Police have blamed communication breakdowns and said procedures have been changed in the aftermath.

However, the lawsuit states that "defendants acted recklessly and with deliberate indifference in failing to protect Kyle Plush, causing him to suffer greatly before his death." It seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages of more than $25,000 (NZD$38,800) against the defendants. Punitive damages to be determined at trial are being sought against defendants other than the city.

A statement from the Gerhardstein & Branch law firm, which is representing the family, says the lawsuit details a "deteriorating" Cincinnati 911 program in the months leading up to the teen's death. The goal of the legal action is to uncover the 911 problems "that led to Kyle's death," according to the statement. Al Gerhardstein is a veteran civil rights attorney.

Messages seeking comment were left with the city today.

The teen's death led to multiple investigations and to improvements in the city's 911 system technology, staffing, training and police procedures. But the youth's parents have expressed dissatisfaction.

File-This May 17, 2018, file photo shows Ron Plush, father of Kyle, and his sister-in-law Jody, left, listening to comments from Mayor John Cranley during City Council's law and public safety committee on the response to the death of Seven Hills student Kyle Plush. The family of a teenager who died trapped in a vehicle despite making two 911 pleas for help has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Cincinnati.
The suit filed Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, in Hamilton County charges the city and several city officials and workers with actions it alleges led to 16-year-old Kyle Plush’s 2018 death. The family says the object is to find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again. (Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, File)
Ron Plush, father of Kyle, and his sister-in-law Jody, left, listening to comments from Mayor John Cranley during City Council's law and public safety committee on the response to the death of Seven Hills student Kyle Plush. Source: Associated Press

Ron Plush repeatedly took part in city council meetings last year, pushing for reforms and accountability for his son's death.

There were also questions raised about the safety of the 2004 Odyssey the student died in. Honda in 2017 recalled some 900,000 later-model Odysseys because of concerns about second-row seats tipping forward if not latched properly, but spokesman Chris Martin said earlier this year that there were no seat-related recalls of the 2004 model. He said this has been the only instance of its type involving that model, and there isn't any pattern of similar incidents from which to draw any conclusions.

The Plush family has memorialised Kyle with a foundation in his name that pushes for reforms, education and supporting emergency communications employees.

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Kyle Plush suffocated when he was apparently pinned by a foldaway seat in his parked car. Source: APTN