NMB says editing of controversial 911 tapes 'not malicious'

By Greg Argos - bio | email

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Barefoot resident Michael Ragusa says something is fishy about the night the Horry County wildfire hit his neighborhood.

Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), he obtained hours of 911 tapes and dashcam video from the city of North Myrtle Beach. After combing through that information, Ragusa says he's found what he believes to be a cover-up.

"Everything didn't seem right about what we were told and what actually happened," Ragusa said.

One of the discrepancies, according to Ragusa, has to do with the 911 call, between a dispatcher trying to reach Director William Bailey and a major with North Myrtle Beach Public Safety.

In one version of the call, the dispatcher says he cannot get a hold of Bailey. However, in another version of the call released to Ragusa through the FOIA, the comment about not being able to reach the director is left out.

The City of North Myrtle Beach says the edited call was not released to the public and was only meant to be used for city record.

"We believe that was done for internal purposes," said Nicole Aiello, spokeswoman for the city of North Myrtle Beach. "It was meant to help us with what was going on and who was contacted, and that call specifically tells us when the major was notified."

Bailey says the theories of a conspiracy or cover-up are wrong.

"This city has nothing to hide, I have nothing to hide," he stated. "And this city is not involved in a cover-up."

The city of North Myrtle Beach says it has completed an internal investigation of who edited the tapes. Aiello says they will not release the name or title of the person, but have determined the person was not acting maliciously.

"There was nearly two hours worth of 911 calls that were condensed down to eight minutes," Aiello explained. "There was a city employee that was assisting the Wildfire Task Force in putting some of the audio and video into a manageable format. The Task Force itself did not specifically ask for this info to be condensed down. This employee did as an easy way for them to pull out certain events they might need."

WMBF News also contacted the Horry County Wildfire Taskforce chairman Greg Duckworth. Duckworth says it did not matter whether the tapes were edited since they were never a part of the investigation and were not shown publicly during any meeting.

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