Employees at the state’s Wichita tax office say they were unable to call 911 for help on their office phones after a co-worker was shot there last week, and a state spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday those complaints are under investigation.
The state spokeswoman also confirmed that Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary Sam Williams, of the Kansas Department of Revenue, met with the shooting victim, Cortney Holloway, at his hospital room last week.
An employee told The Eagle that several of the dozen or so workers at the office tried to call 911 as soon as the gunman who shot Holloway left, but that the phone number had apparently been blocked on their desk phones.
They ended up using personal cellphones, said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concern that being publicly identified could affect the person’s job and/or personal safety.
During the shooting, bullets that missed Holloway whizzed through the back area of the tax office, striking cubicles as employees dove under their desks. The employee said the gunman appeared to have emptied his gun before fleeing the office.
“When we found the guy was gone, people were trying to call 911, and nobody could get through from the work phones,” the employee said. “Several of us tried. We either got nothing or a message that the call could not be completed.”
The employee said they were later told by a manager that the number had been blocked because of false alarm calls to 911.
Workers had to dial a 9 to get an outside line and a 1 to make a long distance call on the state phone system, the employee said. If an employee didn’t push the 1 button firmly enough, it could stutter and accidentally trigger a 911 call, the employee said.
That workers couldn’t call 911 from their desks is disturbing, said Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.
“I wonder how many critical minutes, or seconds, elapsed before emergency services could be contacted,” he said. “Thankfully, people have cell phones, but they shouldn’t have to use their personal phone to call in an emergency. They should be able to use their state phones.”
Rachel Whitten, a spokeswoman for Brownback and the Department of Revenue, confirmed Tuesday that employees have complained to the agency about their inability to dial 911 and that the matter is under investigation.
Whitten said Secretary Williams visited the Wichita office Monday and made a test call to 911, which went through.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what happened during the (shooting) incident,” Whitten said.
She said that’s part of a larger investigation into the security of state offices.
Whitten also confirmed that the governor met with Holloway and his family in the hospital for about an hour on Thursday, two days after the shooting.
Whitten, who accompanied Brownback and Williams on the visit, would not give details on what they talked about, saying it was a private conversation.
“The governor was expressing (to Holloway) his continued support for his recovery,” Whitten said.
Rick Wirths, 51, a Wichita excavation contractor who was facing asset seizure over nearly $400,000 in unpaid taxes, has been charged with attempted murder and is being held on $500,000 bail.