Lacey police arrest man in Internet hoax that flooded Thurston 911 with non-emergency calls

Thurston Communications 911 dispatcher Nichol Eberle is shown here handling emergency calls.
Thurston Communications 911 dispatcher Nichol Eberle is shown here handling emergency calls. Staff file, 2015

A 18-year-old Thurston County man was arrested Wednesday for his alleged involvement in an internet hoax that flooded Thurston Communications 911 with non-emergency calls Tuesday night, according to Lacey police.

The man was booked into the Thurston County Jail on suspicion of “electronic data service interference,” which is a felony, Lacey police Sgt. Terence Brimmer said Wednesday. The man lives in an unincorporated area of the county near Lacey, but was arrested at his place of work in Olympia, he said.

Brimmer said the man confessed to receiving a link from a friend. The man apparently tested the link to see if it worked, then posted it on his Twitter page. He said he did it as a joke, Brimmer said.

He said the man was remorseful and “may have shed several tears.”

It was not immediately clear if the man’s friend would face possible charges.

Smartphone users who clicked on the link then watched as their phones became “hijacked,” Brimmer said, repeatedly dialing 911. Some users apparently had to remove the batteries from their phones to get them to stop.

Meanwhile, the non-emergency calls kept Thurston dispatchers busy.

About 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, dispatch began receiving non-emergency calls at a rate of about 1 every 30 seconds, a Thurston County dispatcher said.

Dispatchers answer calls by saying, “911, what are you reporting?” Most callers quickly hung up once they heard the dispatcher’s voice. But that doesn’t mean that a dispatcher’s work is done, Thurston 911 Executive Director Keith Flewelling said.

“Our standard operating procedure is to call them back to verify whether they’re having an emergency,” he said.

The non-emergency calls tied up Thurston 911 lines for about 30 minutes, a dispatcher said, although Flewelling added that anyone actually trying to make an emergency call was able to get through.

“You just have to be careful in the cyber world,” Flewelling said.