Kaylin Gillis death highlights Washington County cell signal issue

Kaylin Gillis’ death has put a national spotlight on issues with cell signal in Washington County.

Gillis’ father said at a press conference Wednesday that she might have lived if friends could have called for help from the scene.

“Frankly, I’m pissed that there was no cell service out there because that could have been the difference between first responders getting there to be able to save my daughter. I can’t say for sure,” said Andrew Gillis.

NewsChannel 13 retraced the route Gillis’ boyfriend and her friends took as they desperately searched for a cell signal to call 911.

Sheriff Jeff Murphy told reporters the group headed from the house on Patterson Hill Road where she was shot, toward Cemetery Road.

NewsChannel 13 was unable to make a phone call or find any cell signal on three devices with different carriers from Patterson Hill Road until near where the group stopped.

There would have been no lights on the road and small signs. Without service, a NewsChannel 13 crew found it difficult to navigate the area.

The county’s Director of Economic Development, Laura Oswald, told NewsChannel 13 this isn’t the first time unreliable cell service meant losing precious moments in an emergency.

The county is actively seeking providers to expand broadband internet, said Oswald, which has been the focus of a national effort. There is a request for a proposal out to expand broadband across the county.

People who live in the area say high-speed fiber optic cables expanded to a larger number of homes in 2022, allowing voice-over-internet phone. However, they tell NewsChannel 13 cell service remains elusive.

“It’s terrible, it’s really spotty, it’s one of those things where if you’re trying to make a call, it’s better to walk over to that part of the porch because the cell service is a little better there, and it’s pretty much uniformly bad all through this area,” said a resident of the area who did not want to be identified.

The resident described having difficulty working from home before reliable internet was installed.

To make a change, Oswald said, the county would need to commission a study to show the FCC there is no cell signal from major carriers. The FCC map indicates there is already coverage. However, Oswald said that is because providers self-report where customers get signal.