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The 911 dispatcher who took a social worker's emergency call just before Josh Powell killed his sons and himself in an explosive house fire Sunday said he didn't recognize "the lethal quality" of the call.
The dispatcher has been criticized for failing to get critical information and dispatch deputies quickly. Authorities in Washington state have expressed dismay at the handling of the call and the 22-minute police response time to the Graham-area house.
Speaking publicly for the first time to "Dateline," the dispatcher, Dave Loverak, said it was "painful" to listen to a recording of his "clumsy" and "faltering" responses to social worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall.
"I wish I had recognized the urgency of the situation. But, you know it's so difficult to second-guess," according to a transcript of the interview, which aired at 9 p.m. Friday.
Loverak said he'd heard of Josh Powell, who was then under suspicion in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, and embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with his in-laws, but didn't make the connection with the 911 call.
"I was aware of Josh Powell's story. But I didn't associate his name with the story, much like I wouldn't be able to tell you the name of the 18-year-old who was just convicted of the killing, that 9-year-old, [in Missouri] but I know the story. And so, his name was not resonating with me," Loverak said.
Griffin-Hall came to Josh Powell's house Sunday for a supervised visitation with his two sons, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden. They were living with their maternal grandparents at the time, and a Washington judge had recently told Josh Powell he'd have to complete a psychosexual evaluation if he hoped to regain custody.
When Griffin-Hall arrived, the boys ran ahead of her into the house and Josh Powell slammed the door in her face. As she pounded on the door, she heard Josh Powell saying he had "a surprise" for the boys, and then one of the boys crying.
When she called 911, though, Loverak asked her for seemingly unimportant details, like a description of her car, but misses the significance of others, like Griffin-Hall's report that she smelled gasoline.
It took some time for Griffin-Hall to get the address of the home.
At the end of the call, Loverak tells Griffin-Hall that deputies "have to respond to emergencies, life-threatening situations first."
Hearing those words now is "excruciating," he said. But he also said a quicker response time likely would not have made a difference.
"Even as I second-guess myself, I can't help but think about 'What if I had gotten the call in one minute? What if we had deputies there two minutes later?' They would not have immediately kicked the door and rushed in. They would have staged and cordoned off the area and treated it like a hostage situation," Loverak said in a portion of the interview released on "Dateline's" website. He compared himself to the judge who allowed Josh Powell to have visitation.
Police believe Josh Powell had spread gasoline throughout his house before Griffin-Hall arrived. He apparently attempted to kill the boys with a hatchet before setting the structure on fire.
"You don't automatically default to the notion that the person you're dealing with is a psychopath, because we're normal people and we don't live in that kind of a mindset," Loverak said.
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