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Family of Polk Co. woman who died waiting to be rescued from fire addresses county commission

8 On Your Side

Lorretta Pickard’s loved ones want to know why she was not rescued from her burning home in Lakeland last November. The 76-year-old told 911 dispatchers she was confined to a walker and stayed on the phone for many minutes before she took her last breaths inside the burning home.

Why didn’t firefighters try to save her?  Why did a fire captain shoot video of the fire scene and share it on Snapchat?  Why did Lorretta have to die?  Her family members posed those questions to Polk County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

Amber Addision is Pickard’s niece.  “I’m here to speak to say that something has to be done.  This is just, I don’t even know why we’re here today.  I don’t know why it wasn’t handled properly,” Addison told commissioners, fighting back the tears.  “He, Williams, made so many errors.”

The Williams that Addison is referring to is Captain James Williams, who was at the center of an 8 on Your Side Investigation and now a county investigation.  He was the supervisor in charge at the fire scene and is also the person who fire officials say shot the snapchat video.

Heather Tuck, Pickard’s Goddaughter also addressed commissioners.  “I wanted to be a part of this because I loved her very much,” said Tuck. “And I want justice for her.”

Linda Weckle also spoke.  “Lorretta Pickard was my sister,” Weckle told commissioners. “I am here so that no other family will have to go through what our family went (through).  We want there to be changes made and people to step up and tell the truth.”

“Tell them to hurry!” Pickard can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher once she learned firefighters were on scene. Sadly, Loretta died in her home and her rescuers never came for her, even after spending 20 minutes on the phone with 911.

Fire officials told 8 On Your Side that Captain James Williams was suspended for one day, for recording video of the fire, and then sharing it on Snapchat. County officials admitted that Loretta may have still been alive in the burning home at the time.

Fire Chief Tony Stravino has publicly defended Captain Williams actions that night, telling 8 On Your Side that the crew attempted to enter the home but it was too hot.

8 On Your Side uncovered recordings that contradict their accounts of what happened.

Dispatchers repeatedly told Captain Williams that someone was inside, yet radio transmissions from Williams that night appeared to show that he was confused if anyone was even inside.

His first reported actions on scene were a “defensive attack” which means in firefighter terms, they’re going to fight the fire from the outside. Minutes later, Captain Williams called over the radio for backup, and cited a policy that two firefighters must be outside before two can go in.

Chief Stravino admitted that policy does not apply in a life or death situation, and said that it was from a, “lack of knowledge on his part.”
 

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