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911 call from Lambert Wilson’s death released

Lambert Wilson Lambert Wilson

Swain County Emergency Management today released audio from a 911 call that sheds light on the circumstances leading up to the death of beloved community member Lambert Wilson. Wilson died from gunshot wounds Oct. 20 at the El Camino Motel in Cherokee, which he owned.  

The four-minute phone call starts 45 seconds after 9:53 p.m., which is a little over two minutes before Wilson’s death certificate states that he sustained gunshot wounds to the neck, arms, chest and abdomen. The contents of the call indicate that his death resulted from an altercation with a motel customer who feared for their life.

“The owner just attacked my [redacted],” the caller says at the beginning of the call with Jackson County Dispatch.

The caller says they are at the El Camino Motel but flounders when asked for the address.

“There’s a 15 on the building but I’m sorry,” the caller says. “We just came to this motel.”

“Let me see if I can find your address,” the dispatcher responds. “Is he hurt?”

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The caller doesn’t have a chance to answer, because from there the situation quickly spirals.

“Hey, he’s got a gun,” says the caller. “He is pointing a gun at me right now. He’s come out, he’s an owner and he has got a gun pointed at us.”

At the 40-second mark, the call records four blasts that sound like gunshots. Wilson’s death certificate lists four places on his body that sustained gunshot wounds, though the document says these injuries occurred one-and-a-half minutes after the blasts on the call.

There are several redactions in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

“I’m going to stay on the phone with you,” the dispatcher assures the caller.

 “He had a gun pointed at me,” says the caller. “Oh my God.”

The next few minutes are hard to follow. Multiple voices can be heard arguing away from the receiver, but it’s impossible to tell what they are saying. Multiple times, the caller repeats to the dispatcher that the man had a gun and was intending to shoot. The dispatcher stays on the line and tries, to no avail, to get additional information from the distraught caller about where exactly on the motel property this incident unfolded.

“Sir, we have Cherokee Police Department on their way,” the dispatcher says. “Where at the motel are you?”

The call ends with a second person picking up the phone.

“Hello,” the person says.

“Where in the motel are you?” the dispatcher asks.

“Did y’all call 911? Get the police. Thank you,” the person responds.

“This is 911,” says the dispatcher as the line goes dead.

In a death certificate filed Nov. 1 in Jackson County, Wilson’s death is recorded as a homicide. In legal terms, “homicide” means only that one human being caused the death of another. The definition includes murder and manslaughter, but also killings justified by self-defense or insanity. Thus far, no charges have been filed in relation to Wilson’s death. A spokesperson for District Attorney Ashley Welch said her office is still investigating, and that there has not yet been a decision on whether to press charges.

The 911 call’s release comes after three months of silence from officials on the circumstances surrounding Wilson’s death. Since Oct. 20, the Cherokee Indian Police Department had declined to say anything beyond the scanty information posted on Facebook in the hours following the tragedy: that an “incident” had occurred at El Camino Motel and CIPD and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations were on the scene investigating. On Nov. 16, The Smoky Mountain News submitted a request for a copy of the 911 call, but the next day Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts ordered the records sealed for 30 days, ruling in favor of a petition from the State of North Carolina to prevent their release.

When the 30-day seal expired Monday, Dec. 19, SMN submitted a renewed request, which was ignored until 31 hours later when a new order sealing the records for an additional 30 days was filed in Jackson and Swain County courts. However, no new motion to seal the call was filed when the Dec. 19 order expired Jan. 20, and Swain County Emergency Management released a copy of it today. At the time of Wilson’s death, Jackson County’s dispatch center was down and dispatchers were using Swain County facilities, which is why Swain County is administering release of the call to Jackson County 911.

Wilson, 68, was a Swain County native who spent his life as “an advocate for ‘his’ children of Swain and Jackson counties,” according to his obituary. He began his career in 1975 as a teacher at Almond School and was a principal, first at Whittier School and then at East Elementary School, from 1980 to 2006. After his retirement he served on the Swain County Board of Education from 2008 to 2020 and was serving his 13th year on the Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees — and his third year as chairman — at the time of his death.

Wilson owned and operated the Drama Inn and El Camino Motel, and in October 2021 he opened the Queen House Gallery in Cherokee, hoping to encourage young Native American artists and feature renowned artists. Well respected throughout the Native American art community nationwide, Wilson judged several national art competitions and was a board member at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. 

Leave a comment


  • Absolutely does not sound like what Wilson would do! How is it he had a gun pointed at them yet he was the one shot to death?! Fishy story for sure!

    posted by N/A

    Tuesday, 01/24/2023

  • Something is fishy about the entire situation. What's up with withholding 911 records that are clearly public information? Something very strange is going on and the public has a right to demand an accounting of this man's death. What are Cherokee and State officials hiding?

    posted by N.A. Wilson

    Tuesday, 01/24/2023

  • Finally something! Nothing just results in many unfounded rumors. CIPD could have made this statement: "The investigation is continuing", anything is better than nothing.

    posted by Wanda Eastridge

    Tuesday, 01/24/2023

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