7 Investigates: Has hotel where an E. Texas mother was murdered upgraded their 911 system?
Kari's Law cards raise awareness. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff)
Guest phone in Baymont Inn and Suites. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff)
Kari Rene Hunt. (Source: Family)
MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) -
In the weeks following an East Texas mother's death, hotels and motels across the country sprang into action to make sure 911 was easily accessible from guest rooms. However, in July, the hotel where she was murdered still had not fixed the problem.
Since December of 2013, we've been following Kari Rene Hunt's story. Back then, Hunt agreed to meet her husband at a Marshall motel so he could visit with their children, but things turned violent. Kari was murdered. Her estranged husband, Brad Allen Dunn was charged with her death. Her young children were at the motel with her. Hunt's oldest daughter, just 9 years old, did what anyone would do. She called 911, but that call never went through because the hotel required guests to dial 9-9-1-1 to get an outside line to reach police.
Eliminating the need for an extra "9" is a mission Kari's father, Hank Hunt, and his family started just two weeks after her death. Three weeks ago, he returned to the hotel and asked the staff if the problem was fixed.
"We went to a room and dialed 911 and there was no answer. It was a busy signal. I tried it four times just like my granddaughter did, and every time it was a busy signal," Hunt recalls.
Other local hotels and hotels across the country took it upon themselves to reconfigure their phone systems immediately after Kari's death, but it appeared the hotel where she was actually killed had not. We reached out to the Baymont Inn and Suites' hotel group, Wyndham, asking why this was still a problem. A few days later they released a statement.
"100% of our company's owned and managed hotel properties are now configured to allow guests to directly dial 911 from their guest room phones."
The statement continued, "With respect to this particular franchised hotel, while we cannot speak on behalf of the owner, our understanding is that the property's telephone system has been reconfigured to allow guests to directly dial 911 from the guest rooms," says Christine De Silva of the Wyndham Hotel Group.
The KLTV 7 Investigates team put their word to the test. We got our own room at the Baymont Inn and Suites. Then, from that room, we made a test call to Marshall 911. First, we let the police department know what we were doing so they'd be informed there was no real emergency.
The dispatcher could verify the address we were calling from but said we were at the LaQuinta -- which is actually a half a mile south of the Baymont Inn and Suites. Both hotels are on the same street, South East End Boulevard. However, they're on opposite sides of the interstate.
"They may have passed right by it and gone to a different hotel because the information they were receiving was from the LaQuinta Inn, and a 6, 7, 8 or 9 year old child isn't going to know the name of the hotel they're at," says Hunt.
To bring the problem to light, the Hunt family started a petition on change.org. They want dialing 911 to be just that simple no matter where or what phone someone is calling from.
"I believe that it was strictly due to that petition that we've gotten what we've done accomplished already," says Hunt.
In December, the Hunt family had about 2,800 signatures. By August they had more than 460,000.
"More and more are signing it and every comment that we get on it is just, 'I did not know that.' That's what we're trying to do. Get some awareness out there," explains Hunt.
The awareness they're striving for is reaching far and wide. On August 11, Illinois State Governor Pat Quinn signed a universal 911 bill into law. In 2015, people must be able to reach 911 from any Illinois hotel or business without dialing a prefix first.
"I never thought about it. I never realized there was an issue," says Texas State Senator Kevin Eltife.
Eltife says it's something the Texas legislature should take a serious look at.
"There's always a balance of how much regulation versus safety and what kind of burden you put on a business, but in my opinion this is something that could easily be resolved and something we should look into," he adds.
Eltife says it's also legislation he thinks the hotel industry would likely be on-board with.
"When I work on an issue like this in Austin, I get the industry involved. I get them into the room and I discuss it with them. My guess is, from the hotel industry, they would probably welcome wanting to work on legislation and solving it long term," Eltife explains.
"I hate laws. I hate making new laws, but if we're not going to create a law for this, why have one for fire extinguishers, sprinkler heads, fire exits. This is all along the lines of the same thing," says Hunt.
"I want it done yesterday because that's who I am, but I'm just trying to be patient. We'll get there," he adds. After our test 911 call we went to the motel's front office and asked them to do an interview.
After our test 911 call, we went to the motel's front office and asked them to speak with us for this story. The manager on duty declined, so we left our information for the owner who we were told was not available. We did not hear back from them. We also reached out to the Wyndham Hotel Group to let them know that their hotel name was not properly registered. If you want to follow Kari's Family's story, their petition is still growing here.