Emergency dispatcher heard in Angelou call suspended over comments about Oprah

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AARP Magazine’s 2011 Inspire Awards

Maya Angelou speaks during the AARP Magazine’s 2011 Inspire Awards at Ronald Reagan Building on Dec. 9, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. (PIX11) — An emergency dispatcher’s ill-timed conversation about Oprah Winfrey led to his getting disciplined.

He was suspended with pay over comments that were picked up in a 911 recording from Maya Angelou’s caretaker, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Angelou, 86, died early Wednesday. Winfrey and Angelou were close friends.

A caretaker called 911 Wednesday when she found the famed poet, novelist and activist unresponsive in her North Carolina home.

In the background of the county’s recording of the 911 call, an emergency dispatcher can be heard talking about an interview Winfrey did last fall with the BBC.

“These comments are unacceptable and we have opened an internal investigation to look into the circumstances surrounding this event,” Forsyth County EMS Director Dan Ozimek said in a statement to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Ozimek said John Ruckh, who has worked with the county’s EMS for 24 years, has been suspended with pay pending the investigation.

Ruckh’s conversation was discovered when Ozimek was reviewing the recording, the official said. Ruckh was not the primary dispatcher on the call but was in the same room.

“In Emergency Services, we deal with a lot of pain and suffering and we make decisions in split seconds to know how to do, what to do and who to send. … However, sometimes we become calloused and insensitive. I really hate that this happened at the time that it did, because this is taking away from Maya Angelou’s passing,” Ruckh told the Winston-Salem Journal.

He described Angelou as a “wonderful human being” for whom he had “the utmost respect,” adding that the conversation was not associated with the call his colleague was handling.

Note: The comments in question are made about the 5-minute mark in the recording above.

The primary dispatcher was talking Angelou’s caretaker through CPR when someone – possibly another caretaker carrying Angelou’s “do not resuscitate” form – knocks at the door.

When the caretaker leaves the phone behind to answer the door, the dispatcher goes silent and the recording picks up the background conversation, which is a bit garbled.

The comments take up less than a minute of the 7-minute call.

It sounds as though Ruckh said that “Oprah has fallen out of grace” and asks someone if they have heard her recent rant, the newspaper reported.

He goes on to say that Winfrey seemed upset because people are not supportive of President Barack Obama and, apparently paraphrasing one of her statements, says that racism is alive because so many white people have been raised in the era of hating black people, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

He was referencing a November 2013 interview with the BCC in which Winfrey discussed her role in “The Butler” and the racial themes addressed in the film.

“There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die,” Winfrey said in the interview, speaking about racism.

The BBC’s Will Gompertz also asked Winfrey about Obama and if she thinks that some of the treatment he has faced is because he is black.

“I think that there’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs, and that occurs in some cases and maybe even many cases because he’s African American,” Winfrey said.

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