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Tapes Show Fear, Panic in Killer's Wake

Toby Whelchel's 2-day rampage in Ventura County is recounted in heart-rending 911 calls. He killed three people and then himself.

June 11, 2005|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

"My wife's down!" the man shouts to the 911 dispatcher. "Get them! Get a rescue unit here! These people are d.... "

Jeffrey Nordella's anguished plea is abruptly cut off. It was just after 8:30 a.m. on May 31, the horrible morning when a killer on the run had randomly chosen the Nordellas' Santa Rosa Valley home for his next round of violence.

Witnesses would later recount how Nordella, a physician trained in emergency medicine, frantically tried to save his bleeding wife shortly after that call.

But the pistol-whipping Carole Nordella took at the hands of enraged gunman Toby Whelchel was too severe. The 48-year-old mother of three died in a hospital later that day from massive head injuries.

The wake of fear and panic left behind as Whelchel, 38, unleashed a vicious two-day crime spree in Ventura County was captured in heart-rending detail on 911 tapes released Thursday. They also showed that dispatchers were flooded with confusing calls from multiple locations that may have hampered efforts to reach victims.

By the time he put a bullet into his head, Whelchel had killed three people, wounded five others and sparked a massive manhunt that culminated with his suicide in a Simi Valley Wal-Mart store.

The ex-Air Force captain, who had been drummed out of the military for poor work habits, began his deadly spree Memorial Day. Neighbors on a Thousand Oaks street watched in disbelief as Whelchel jumped from his truck and fatally shot attorney Steve Mazin, 52, and Jan Heyne, 50, who was visiting Mazin's home with her husband. Mazin had previously represented Whelchel, but later obtained a restraining order against him.

Within moments, three 911 calls came in.

One voice describes Whelchel's truck for dispatchers, even as the caller is hurrying across the street to see who has been hurt.

"I see one. I see two. I see three," said the distressed man coming upon one victim after another. "Oh my god, [he] killed, like, a whole family!"

Heyne's husband, Tim Heyne, 51, was wounded in the attack but survived.

Whelchel eluded authorities that night by seizing a truck at a Vons supermarket near Mazin's home. Sometime that night, he abandoned the vehicle near a mountain ridge park that separates Thousand Oaks from Santa Rosa Valley.

About 8 a.m. the next day, 911 dispatchers received a call from the Nordella home. The caller immediately disconnected, said Eric Nishimoto, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Within a minute, a dispatcher took a call from Jamie Nordella, 15, who was being driven to school by her father. Her mother had just called in a panic, saying a man had broken into the house, Jamie told the dispatcher.

"She was just screaming and our dogs were going crazy," the girl says, rising panic in her voice.

Jamie stays on the phone as her father rushes home with her, honking and yelling as he navigates traffic. After 10 minutes, Jeffrey Nordella can be heard yelling "Is that him?"

Police later said Nordella tried to stop the fleeing Whelchel by blocking the road with his car. Still holding the phone, Jamie can be heard exiting the car and running away, breathing heavily.

"I'm going to my neighbors now because the guy is here!" she shouts.

Inside the Nordella house, pool man Kevin Brown calls 911 to report that he, Carole Nordella and her two younger children had been beaten by Whelchel.

Kristin Nordella, 14, gets on the phone and tries to answer the dispatcher's questions about the intruder, the type of gun he had and the vehicle he fled in. Shocked and confused, Kristin struggles with her answers.

Three times, she pleads for help to arrive faster.

"Please come here before my mom dies," she whimpers.

Brown tells the dispatcher that Carole Nordella is on the ground, unconscious in a pool of blood.

"I'm trying to clear her airway," Brown says. "She is barely breathing."

Within a few minutes, Jeffrey Nordella can be heard entering the house. A child's cry can be heard.

"Daddy, you're here! Daddy, you're here! Daddy, you're here!" she cries hysterically.

Nordella grabs the phone and yells to the dispatcher that an ambulance is needed immediately. The dispatcher tells him to stop yelling, that she needs more information.

"Just get me a rescue unit, please," Nordella says, giving the dispatcher his address. "There's an assault here. I don't want to repeat it!"

As the dispatcher is explaining that she needs other information, Nordella screams for an ambulance once more before the line is disconnected.

Ventura County Fire Department officials say an ambulance arrived at the Nordella home at 8:37 a.m., about 25 minutes after Jamie reached a 911 operator.

Nishimoto, the sheriff's spokesman, said medical help did not arrive sooner because dispatchers were dealing with scores of calls related to Whelchel's crime spree. The first deputy sent to the scene was wounded by the fleeing Whelchel, delaying response even further, Nishimoto said. Medical aid, by protocol, does not enter a crime scene involving gunfire until it is declared safe by a deputy, he added.

The neighbor to whom Jamie had fled as her father confronted the killer knew none of that. She too was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, and can be heard driving to the Nordella house to offer assistance.

She tells the dispatcher she is pulling up to the house and does not see any emergency vehicles. "I cannot believe this is going on," she says, voice breaking. "This is beyond belief."

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