June 24th, 2024

Prank 911 caller receives suspended sentence

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on December 2, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

At about 7 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2021, 911 dispatch in Lethbridge received a call from a man who said people were harassing him, but then he hung up.

A couple of hours later the man, who sounded intoxicated, called 911 again, and continued calling every two minutes after that, rambling and saying he was paranoid and claiming he needed an ambulance.

The caller was advised to stop making the prank calls and warned that he was violating the 911 Act. He continued to call 911 for the next couple of hours, however, and even reported a fire, demanding the fire department respond. He called back shortly afterward and said there wasn’t a fire, but continued calling the emergency number.

Police and the fire department eventually responded and found Jason Samuel McCrae so intoxicated emergency personnel often couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was charged under the Criminal Code with conveying false information with the intent to injure or alarm, and during a hearing Wednesday in Lethbridge provincial court, he pleaded guilty to the charge.

Crown Prosecutor Bruce Ainscough estimated McCrae made as many as two dozen prank calls to 911.

McCrae was released from custody the following day upon conditions he not call the police service or 911 unless he has a valid reason. He was also ordered to abstain from consuming alcohol and drugs.

However, at about 8 p.m. on Jan. 29 of this year, he called 911 again and police were dispatched to a westside residence. When police arrived they heard loud music and knocked on the door several times. When no one answered they opened the unlocked door and found McCrae alone and asleep on the couch, surrounded by empty beer cans and evidence he had made the 911 call.

“There was a cordless phone handset lying underneath him on the couch with 911 dialed as the last entry,” Ainscough said.

Ainscough pointed out McCrae was not in any medical distress or facing an emergency, and he was charged for failing to comply with release conditions, to which he also pleaded guilty.

Lethbridge lawyer Miranda Hlady said McCrae, who may have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, has been living at the Kainai Wellness Centre since March, where he is involved in a one-year recovery program and is a model participant. And although alcohol abuse has been a significant problem in his life, he went 332 days without a drink in 2019 before he went off the wagon. He has, however, been sober since February of this year.

Hlady asked Judge John Maher to give McCrae a four-month suspended sentence with probation, which would provide him with treatment and counselling and allow him to continue living at the wellness centre. The Crown, on the other hand, recommended a jail sentence of four months

“Have you taken the time to explain to him the danger that he has created for other people by calling 911? Does he understand that?” Maher asked.

Hlady said McCrae doesn’t remember much from the night he made the numerous calls to 911, but he understands the impact his actions can have on the community.

“I think he genuinely was in distress and unable to find an appropriate way to seek help, your honour,” Hlady said.

“Under distress doesn’t mean drunk,” Maher replied. “Calling 911 needlessly puts other people’s lives at risk, and I am telling you that if an emergency such as a fire truck or an ambulance wastes their time answering prank calls or unfounded calls, and somebody else who needs their services dies, you are responsible. There’s no way you needed help on either of these occasions; you were just drunk.”

Maher acknowledged McCrae has made significant strides this year to rehabilitate himself, and although he considered the Crown’s suggestion for a jail sentence he handed McCrae a one-year suspended sentence with probation, during which he must continue receiving treatment and counseling for life skills and substance abuse, and complete 50 hours of community service.

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