Attorneys for a woman who was abducted from the Ferry Avenue PATCO station in Camden said that if a city dispatcher had done her job correctly, Christine Eberle could have been saved from her two attackers.
Instead, the dispatcher did not send police, and Eberle's body was found the next day in the woods behind the Malandra Hall Community Center in Camden.
Seven years after Eberle's 2001 death, the City of Camden has settled a lawsuit with her family for $1.85 million.
The deal was reached May 28, and City Council approved it Tuesday night, saying that the city's insurers would pay all but $300,000 of the settlement.
"It's not about the amount of money because nothing will bring Christine back to us," Eberle's mother, Linda Reis, said yesterday. "It's more so getting the city to verbally apologize, because that has never happened. . . . Finally, they're taking accountability for what happened to Christine."
Council President Angel Fuentes offered that apology yesterday "on behalf of City Council."
Eberle, a 27-year-old from Washington Township, was abducted from the Ferry Avenue station parking lot on her way home from her Center City job as a financial manager.
Her two attackers threw her into the back of her Honda hatchback and drove off.
Another commuter who witnessed the attack called 911, but a Camden dispatcher characterized the incident as a domestic dispute and did not send police.
In a deposition, the dispatcher, Marie Cupparo, said she wrote the caller's information on a piece of paper, which she lost. She could not explain why she didn't enter the information into the computer or send police.
"She didn't do her job, so Christine isn't here," Reis said.
Cupparo was placed on unpaid leave after Eberle's death, and she retired with her pension in 2003. Cupparo's attorney, Timothy Scaffidi, said "respectfully, no comment" when asked about the settlement.
Eberle family attorneys said they mapped the position of every police cruiser in the city when the 911 call was made. They found one police car had been a block away, and another was six blocks away.
"We would have convinced the jury that there would never have been a murder if there had been lights and sirens, and the car a block away had been dispatched," said Andrew Rossetti, one of the attorneys.
Prosecutors described Eberle's death as every commuter's "worst nightmare." The murder spurred PATCO to hire seven new police officers to patrol stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and to assign an officer around the clock to the Ferry Avenue station.
Eberle's attackers, Ryshaone Thomas and Marcus Toliver, both of Camden, pleaded guilty in 2005 and each received a 43-year sentence.
"This has made me a person I never wanted to be. Everything has been a fight," Reis said during a news conference in Rossetti's office. "Down to the criminals that did it, no one has shown any kind of remorse."
She said part of the settlement money would be used to continue a scholarship in her daughter's memory and for the maintenance of the Shining Star Park in Mount Ephraim, which was refurbished in Eberle's honor.
The family also sued the Delaware River Port Authority, which operates PATCO. The two sides reached a settlement in 2006 and agreed to keep its terms confidential.
Reis said she hopes that Camden will "revamp its 911 system."
"It's very disturbing that any city anywhere can be run like that, with so much dysfunction," she said.
The civil case set new limits for the protection cities have from lawsuits for failing to provide police protection.
A judge dismissed the Eberle suit in 2006, ruling that state law gave Camden and its employees immunity. But, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division reversed that decision earlier this year, saying the protection didn't apply when the employees performed their jobs negligently.
Attorneys in the case said the appellate ruling would have statewide implications.
Eberle, who was engaged to be married when she was killed, was buried in her wedding dress. Her mother yesterday wore Eberle's engagement picture in a pendant.
Every year, Reis said, she goes to the Ferry Avenue station to put up ribbons in the color of her daughter's wedding dress - and to make sure PATCO police are patroling, as promised.
And, seven years later, Reis still pays her daughter's cell phone bill so she can hear Eberle's voice on the greeting.
Sometimes, Reis leaves a message.