Polk fire captain's past reveals previous missteps

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Family members of a Polk County woman who died in a house fire came to Bartow Tuesday to ask the Polk County Commission to launch an investigation into their loved one's death.

Heather Tuck read a letter from the family of Lorretta Pickard to commissioners.

“We would like to know the truth,” Pickard's goddaughter, Heather Tuck. “The complete truth, no matter how ugly it may be.”

Pickard died last November in her home just off Rockridge Road, north of Lakeland. She was on the phone with 911 for nearly 20 minutes waiting for someone to rescue her while firefighters were battling the fire from outside.

The captain in charge of the scene, James Williams later told investigators his crews could not make the rescue because the fire was out of control and a downed power line blocked their path.

“Recently we learned that was not the truth,” Tuck read. “In fact, many untruths are being revealed.”

FOX 13 News took a closer look at Williams’ past with the department.

When he was hired in 2008, officials were concerned with his driving record and had him sign an agreement that he would be closely monitored.

In 2013, Williams got in trouble for repeatedly parking in a handicapped spot at the fire station. He was also written up for damaging a fire engine.

That year, management wrote on his review "management feels engineer Williams’ biggest downfall is he seems at times to not take his job as serious as he should."

A grand theft charge Williams got when he was 18 is now impacting his work.

County officials say Williams recently lost his Criminal Justice Information System certification due to the charge. That means he can't log onto the department's computer system.

Deputy County Manager Joe Halman, Jr. didn't seem very concerned.

"My understanding, he has a driver who has access.  In terms of writing reports… he's able to go into the fire system to write reports," Halman said.   

After the November fire that took Pickard's life, Williams was reprimanded for posting a video on Snapchat of the fire. He has recently been put on administrative duty at Polk County Fire Rescue.

Pickard’s sister, Linda Weckle also addressed county commissioners Tuesday.

“There [have] to be changes made and people have to step up and tell the truth,” she said.

Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison said one of William’s bosses, Deputy County Manager Joe Halman should be investigated as well.

“Halman has done nothing but defend [Williams]," she said.

RELATED: New audio reveals crews knew someone might be inside burning Lakeland home

Commission Chair George Lindsey said the county is on the verge of signing a contract with a new outside agency to investigate the situation. Last week, the Florida Fire Chiefs Association declined to launch a probe, then reconsidered, but ultimately backed out.

“Whatever the facts show will clearly be made public to everyone and we’ll take corrective action wherever there is a shortfall,” Lindsey said.

He said investigators will have 60 days to complete their work.