Prank phone call serious matter

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Woman told family member in hospital

Reece Murphy
Imagine this scenario: It’s 4:15 a.m. and all is quiet. The phone rings, rousing you from a solid sleep. On the other end of the line is a S.C. Highway Patrol Trooper named Smith bearing bad news – you have an unnamed family member at Springs Memorial Hospital and you need to get there fast.
You jump up, dress, call and wake your 70-year-old mother so she can come with you because you can’t do it alone. You leave your family at home to wait on more news.
Not knowing who it could be, you prepare your mother for the worst: Your nephew, her grandchild perhaps?
When you get to the emergency room, there’s no family member there.
By then you’re near frantic. There’s some mistake. There’s got to be some kind of mistake.
Hospital staff make calls to other area hospitals, no word.
Then someone does the only thing left to do; calls the highway patrol and tracks down the only area trooper named Smith. He lives in Pageland.
But he didn’t call anyone. In fact, he’s been asleep.
In the end, you, your family back home waiting for bad news and those around you come to a cold conclusion – you have been the victim of a tasteless prank call.
Just such a nightmare happened to a Lancaster woman on Jan. 23. She said she was “shocked.”
“It was awful, I’ll tell you that,” said the woman, who asked her identity to be withheld. “When I came home, I just laid there and couldn’t sleep. I just thought, ‘why? Why would somebody do this?’ ”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
The woman said what made the whole thing so convincing was the caller used both her and her husband’s name and address as if he was confirming he had the right person.
Upon questioning for details, the caller said he hadn’t seen the “victim” but was given her number  to help notify family members.
“He said, ‘I will tell you that the victim is conscious, but there are a lot of questions to be answered,’” the woman said. “It was so real.”
The woman said she contacted The Lancaster News because she thought readers should know what the highway patrol’s procedure is in notifying family members so they can identify a possible prank if it happens to them.
She also said she learned there were avenues she could have taken that might have helped catch the culprit.
S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Bryan McDougald said that if you get a phone call from a state trooper like the one received by the Lancaster woman, you should probably be wary to begin with.
“In a case where someone is injured, we wouldn’t necessarily contact the family ... I would say that most likely would never happen,” McDougald said. “But definitely, in the matter of a fatality, we would contact the family, and that would be in person.”
McDougald said even if the family was out of town when a fatality occurred, the highway patrol’s policy is to make every effort possible to notify in person, either through another law enforcement agency or a third party such as a clergy member.
He said in the “last resort” case that a family was notified of an injury or fatality by phone, the caller would be “very detailed” about who they were, and what was going on.
Though the extent of injuries would not be discussed over the phone, McDougald said, arrangements would be made so family members could learn that information in person.
“If someone does call and says something like your mother was in a serious crash, if you have any doubt, think it was a prank call, or just for your own peace of mind, call us or 911 and they’ll forward the message to us,” McDougald said.
You can contact the patrol by dialing *hp (*47).
According to the phone prank victim, the information offered by the caller suggested he got her telephone number from the phone book.
If a prankster calls your land line phone, you may be able to track them down – a prospect that could lead to their arrest since “making false statements concerning death or injury to members of the family of the person called” is illegal in South Carolina.
According to Comporium Communications, it is possible to trace a call.
But you’ve got to do it immediately before you make another phone call.
After receiving a harassing phone call, hang up, then pick up and wait for a normal dial tone.
Then dial *57 (or 1157 on a rotary phone) and wait for a confirmation message saying the number has been traced.
As a side note, *57 will not work on a cell phone and instead calls the Lenoir, S.C., police department in Edgefield County.
In any event, by dialing *57 on a land line, the trace will be recorded and the number marked with the telephone company.
Should you decide to pursue the case, you must next contact your local law enforcement agency since they’re the only ones who are legally allowed to request the information.
This should be done as soon as possible since Comporium must be contacted before the end of the next business day.
More notes: Each trace costs $1 with a limit of five a month. And if you dial another number, get another phone call or hear a “call waiting” tone before dialing *57, forget about it because you will trace the wrong number.
The Lancaster woman said even though she has since gotten over the initial shock of the incident, there is one other thing that still bothers her: The possibility the caller was looking for a way to get into her home.
“When I talked to the trooper, he asked if there was someone still at home; said the first thing that came to his mind was that someone was watching me and waiting for me to leave,” the woman said. “When I got home, my husband was sitting on the couch with a gun. I was numb. It still bothers me.”
McDougald said he felt for the Lancaster woman and said the “prank” call could have led to some serious consequences.
“No, I’ve never heard of this before, but it’s tragic,” McDougald said. “And would have been compounded had the person who answered hurt themselves getting to the hospital.
“I hope the person who did this will get caught,” he said.

Contact reporter  Reece Murphy at 283-1151