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County Manager in Polk asks for independent investigation into deadly fire

8 On Your Side

Polk County, County Manager Jim Freeman has asked for an independent investigation into the November fire that claimed 76-year-old Lorretta Pickard’s life.

“Recent media reports and public comments concerning the tragic and heartbreaking death of Mrs. Pickard in that November house fire have raised many serious concerns and allegations,” Freeman said.

“Many of the allegations and comments have been based on incomplete information, speculation and innuendo by individuals who were not on the fire scene and/or have neither the technical expertise nor fire command experience to reach their conclusions.”

County Commssion Chairman George Lindsey is hopeful the results of this investigation will clear the air.  

“I want to restore the faith in the community that we have a quality fire and rescue operation in Polk County,” said Commissioner Lindsey.  “I don’t want this one horrible tragic event to define this department.”

The fire department itself has been under fire since the incident.  

Captain James Williams, the firefighter who was in charge that night, has been at the center of the investigation. In part, because of a video he shot of the house burning that he shared on Snapchat.

According to the timeline provided by the county, Pickard was likely still alive in the structure at the time the video was recorded.

Pickard’s relatives are pleading for justice and asking for anyone who can shed light on what happened that night to come forward.

 Amber Addison is Pickard’s niece.  

“And I plead to all that were on the scene and all that know about this. Please be [a] hero. Please come out. Please say what you know about the wrong doing,” said Addison. “Please. We’re begging you. Don’t let this happen again. “

Meanwhile, 8 On Your Side has learned this isn’t Williams’ first mistake with the department.  

In 2013, he was written up for repeatedly parking in a marked handicapped spot at the fire station after being warned not to. It was also noted in a prior review that he didn’t take his job as seriously as he should.

Then there’s the matter of the grand theft charge.  

When Williams was 18-years-old,  he admitted to stealing $800 in cash and merchandise from the J.C. Penney Store where he worked. Adjudication was withheld in that case after he agreed to pay the store back what he had taken.

But that charge has had an affect on his employment with Polk Fire Rescue more than a decade later. It recently affected his Criminal Justice Information System Certification. It’s known as CJIS to those in the business.  

Without that certification, he cannot log onto the department’s computer system.

Deputy County Manager Joe Halman Jr. explains they have a work around for that.  

“My understanding, he has a driver who has access in terms or writing reports and etc.,” said Halman. “He’s able to go into the fire system to file reports.”

When Commssioner Lindsey was asked if the public is at risk because he’s being investigated for things he may or may not have done at that fire scene, he said, “No, I don’t. I absolutely don’t.”

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