Dispatcher Prevents Potential Disaster

Photo by Leonard COUTIN
LA County Sheriff’s Department’s dispatcher Richard Engersbach’s quick, calm thinking helped save a woman in a runaway vehicle.


Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher Richard Engersbach is used to taking calls about everything from burglary to bear sightings but on Monday he received a call that covered a brand new area.

At 10:55 a.m., Engersbach received a forwarded 911 call from a woman driving eastbound on Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada. Her Ford Escort’s accelerator had stuck; she was driving about 20- to 25-miles-per-hour and unable to stop. When she spoke to Engersbach, she had crossed the Angeles Crest Highway intersection and was approaching Sports Chalet.

The 40-year-old Sunland woman was scared and, to make the situation even more terrifying for the mother, her 5-year-old daughter was in the back passenger seat.

“There are cars in front of me and I can’t stop,” the driver said.

“She was scared and crying,” recalled Engersbach. “You could sense the urgency in her voice.”

Engersbach has been trained for this type of situation although, he said, he had never dealt with a runaway vehicle before.

“I tried to get her to remain calm, kept myself calm and got the information I needed,” he said.

The woman driver had traveled through an intersection’s red light and was quickly approaching another red light.

“I told her to turn off the ignition of the car and it slowed down,” he said.

The car eventually came to a stop on Foothill Boulevard at Oakwood Avenue.

There were several vehicles on the boulevard at the time of the incident and the woman had already crossed through one red light. Engersbach was concerned not only about the traffic but possible pedestrians crossing the street.

“My focus was to get help, [our patrol units],” he said.

Patrol units were at the location when the vehicle came to a stop.

“Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station personnel and I are very proud of Law Enforcement Technician Richard Engersbach as he handled the potentially volatile situation in an excellent manner.  He quickly assessed the situation, determined the location, and gave sound advice to the caller who was under a stressful situation.  Fortunately, the incident came to a successful conclusion without injury, death, or property damage,” said Capt. Dave Silversparre.

Luckily the woman’s vehicle was able to stop following Engersbach instructions.

“She was scared, but she did an amazing job of staying focused,” Engersbach said.

Click below for the audio call.