Bad wiring cause of fire that killed K-9

An investigation into the cause of a patrol car fire that took the life of a Douglas County Sheriff's Office K-9 officer is set to be complete by the end of the month.

"Basically, the investigation is 90 percent complete," said Capt. Terry Taylor, East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts inspector/investigator.

"I'm tracking down some leads and getting some more information, but we should have everything to private counsel by the end of this month."

Taylor and sheriff's investigator Aaron Crawford are looking into the cause of the Feb. 3 fire that engulfed a patrol car while deputies were investigating an early morning alarm.

Jon-Jon, a sheriff's office drug-detecting canine officer, was in the vehicle and died of smoke inhalation.

His partner, Deputy Rick Koontz, and Deputy Dean Kumagai were inside the building when the cruiser caught fire and was engulfed in flames within minutes.

Taylor said the investigation had confirmed that the fire was caused by defective wiring.

The patrol car was a 2004 Crown Victoria manufactured by Ford Motor Co.

"The real question has become was there a defect at the time of manufacture that caused the fire?" Taylor said. "That defect would be Ford's or a company contracted by Ford to do work on the Crown Victoria before it was delivered to the sheriff's office."

Taylor said Ford has an opportunity to send their own experts to examine the evidence.

He said Ford has contracts with companies to add electrical wiring for police lights and sirens and other specifications.

"We have ascertained where we thought the fire started was the electrical wiring installed by Ford or its subcontractor, not by Douglas County," Taylor said.

He said the county's vehicle maintenance team determined the remaining Crown Victorias in the sheriff's office fleet were safe.

Taylor said the county would probably file a claim for the expense of the car, and the cost of replacing Jon-Jon and the training estimated in excess of $50,000.

"It's a straight dollar amount," Taylor said. "If a person had died, it would be different, but animals don't fall into that category."

Taylor said private counsel was retained by the county because of the relationship between the sheriff's office and the district attorney's office.

"The county wanted to get someone involved who would take an independent view and had experience litigating with products," Taylor said.

Jon-Jon, a black Labrador retriever had been with the sheriff's office for four years, trained to detect narcotics and partnered with Koontz.

Following his death, there was an outpouring of support from the community and other law enforcement agencies culminating in a Feb. 24 memorial service attended by more than 600 people and 50 K-9 officers.

The sheriff's department is in the process of selecting two new K-9 officers, Sheriff Ron Pierini said Monday.

He said Jon-Jon's replacement would be assigned to Deputy Scott Battcher.

"There was a lot of interest among the deputies," Pierini said. "We like to spread the responsibility around. Training and working with a K-9 officer takes a lot of work, dedication and time."

The second dog would replace one of the department's canines ready for retirement.

"They work hard and get tired and worn out," Pierini said.

The retired dogs are given to their deputy handlers.

The department's canine program is funded through private donations. In the wake of Jon-Jon's death, Pierini said the fund is at $25,000.


Donations to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office patrol and drug detection dog program may be made to the DCSO Canine Fund, c/o Douglas County Sheriff's Office, PO Box 218, Minden, 89423, or dropped off at the sheriff's office in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 1625 Eighth St., Minden.


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