Bill Munich was tending to his float plane near Anacortes in October 2005 when he was confronted by an angry, armed neighbor.
The two had been embroiled in a minor property dispute, so when he saw the man approaching with a gun Munich called 911, saying, “I just happened to look up and there he was on the other side of the fence with a rifle aimed at me.”
What follows on the 911 tape is a recording of a chilling scene straight out of a horror movie. Munich, a respected pilot and inventor, was hunted down by that neighbor and killed on the side of Highway 20. All the while, Munich was on the phone with 911 operators pleading for help.
“I just ran up the road. He was chasing me up the road and he was shooting at me,” he said, according to the 911 tape.
The first dispatcher told Munich to stay put on his property and that help would be on the way. For some reason, though, that first call to 911 was not dispatched to deputies as an emergency. It wasn’t until a second 911 call from Munich that an a different dispatcher coded the call as an emergency.
“It is incomprehensible,” says Kevin Coluccio, the attorney representing the Munich family.
As the situation intensified, Munich ran from his property and grew more desperate as he waited for help to arrive. The recording shows that Munich remained calm talking with the 911 dispatcher -– even as the gunman, Marvin Ballsmider, approached in his car.
“He's got his window rolled down,” Munich told the operator. “I don't have a prayer now.”
At this point Munich was literally running for his life down Highway 20. “And now here he comes. Here he is, he's got the gun pointed out the window now.”
The next sound on the tape is Bill Munich being murdered. Police arrived less than a minute later. It took 14-1/2 minutes for the first deputy to arrive.
The Munich family sued Skagit County 911. The case has been tied up in litigation for seven years. Today, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the suit can continue and the county can be held liable.
"The court specifically stated, 'Whether or not the estate can prove the County acted negligently in this case remains to be seen,'" said Bill King, the director of Skagit 911. "Skagit 911 continues to maintain that Mr. Munich's death was caused by Marvin Ballsmider who was convicted of his murder; not by any action of our 911 staff."
Marvin Ballsmider died in prison. The dispatcher was never reprimanded.
Coluccio said it all could have been avoided if the dispatcher had listened more closely. “Bill's last moments are frightening and stay with you forever.”