KELOLAND News has obtained the 911 call that came in to Charles Mix County reporting the fire at the Westerhuis compound south of Platte.
Our KELOLAND News investigation has new details on that call as well as how the Westerhuis’ alarm system was set up.
It took KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke several months to get a copy of the recording of the 911 call. She first asked the Charles Mix County Sheriff’s office for it, but did not receive a response.
911 recordings do not have to be disclosed under the open public records laws in South Dakota. Angela asked Attorney General Marty Jackley if there would be an exception in this case.
Jackley determined that this particular call met the public interest exception to the law. Jackley released the recording to KELOLAND News, but took out the caller’s name to protect his identity.
Jackley says the reason for doing that was to make sure that people are willing to call 911 without being publicly named in a case.
911 Operator: “911, where is your emergency?”
Caller: “Platte, South Dakota; There’s a place on fire out there and I didn’t see no fire trucks or anything there,” The caller said.
The man reporting the fire at the Westerhuis compound at 5:36 a.m. On September 17th just happened to be driving by at the time.
“I think it’s a house/business type place there,” he said. He struggled to give the 911 operator an exact address.
911 Operator: “380th on 360th Ave?”
Caller: “I believe that’s what it is. I’m coming up to a sign right here. It’s basically called Main Street coming out of Platte.”
The caller told the operator he’s been staying at a campground and was on his way into work; And there’s one key piece of evidence his call provides.
“I don’t see no fire trucks or nothing out there, so–it looks like it’s been burning a little while,” he said.
Shortly after that call came in, Westerhuis’ neighbor a half mile down the road, Don Lucas, was awakened by the fire whistle in town going off. Ten minutes later when he left for work he saw two fire trucks at the property with more headed that way.
“You could see the flames already then. The north end of the house was completely engulfed in flames. Only a third of it or so was completely on fire. I could see most of the house,” Lucas said.
Attorney General Marty Jackley tells KELOLAND News investigators worked with the alarm installation company and matched up phone logs to determine that the alarm Scott Westerhuis had purchased three year ago was set up to call the couple’s cell phones from the couple’s home phone when it detected smoke. The automated alarm first called Scott’s phone at 2:56 a.m. and then Nicole’s at 2:57 a.m.
Jackley says there wasn’t a monitoring company involved and that the alarm was set to notify the homeowners, not to get emergency responders to the scene.