A Guerneville woman was found dead in her trailer two days after a 911 call from her home, leaving her family wondering if more could have been done to prevent her death.
Sonoma County sheriff's officials are investigating the response over the weekend by two deputies who went to the predawn call at the Drake Road trailer of Ranae Bunch, 70. Fire officials also are conducting an internal review of firefighters' actions.
Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who responded to the 911 call with Russian River firefighters and Sonoma County sheriff's deputies, said emergency crews did all they could to determine if someone needed help, short of breaking through the locked door.
They banged on the door and peered through windows with flashlights looking for signs of someone in distress, Baxman said. They even broke a bedroom window, allowing Baxman to reach in up to his shoulder to flip through the blankets covering the bed below to feel for someone there.
They saw no one in the small trailer, said Baxman, a veteran chief known for his rapid and aggressive response to emergency calls throughout the west county.
"I am sorry. We all feel terrible," Baxman said. "We tried the best we could with the information we had and what we could see."
Sheriff's Lt. Steve Brown on Wednesday said an internal investigation is underway to determine whether the two deputies should have forced their way into the locked trailer.
"The (sheriff's) policy is if you believe a life is in danger or somebody is in medical distress or somebody is dying, you go in," Brown said.
Friday's 911 call offered little information, according to a preliminary review.
Sheriff's dispatchers took a call shortly before 5a.m. Friday and transferred it to county fire dispatchers as a possible medical emergency involving breathing problems.
The only comments made by the caller may have been "Oh God. Oh God," Brown said, citing an initial review of 911 tapes by the Sheriff's Office. Those statements could have been enough for deputies to break into the trailer, depending on other information available.
Serena Bunch, the woman's daughter, struggled Wednesday to understand why emergency responders left without forcing open her mother's door.
"For me, the biggest thing is why didn't you enter the residence on a 911 call? She may have been incapacitated" and out of sight, said Bunch, who lives in Santa Rosa.
Firefighters and deputies at the trailer discussed going through the locked door, Baxman said. At the time, it appeared they didn't have the information they needed to take the action, he said.
Ranae Bunch's body was found at 1 p.m. Sunday by her daughter. The woman recently had been hospitalized for breathing problems, her daughter said.
Serena Bunch, unaware of Friday's 911 call, had called her mother repeatedly Sunday. Getting no answer, she became concerned and drove to Guerneville.
She found her mother in her bedroom. Her body was on the floor up against the bed.
Outside the trailer on a window, Bunch found a deputy's business card with a handwritten note. It said deputies and firefighters had responded to a 911 call just before 5 a.m. Friday to the trailer and they had broken the window while attempting to determine if someone was home. It also said they left when it appeared the trailer was empty, Bunch said.