Friday, August 3rd, 2012
By Margie Wuebker
Deputy on leave pending probe
Heat alarm system not on in cruiser where dog found dead, sheriff says
Mercer County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Fortkamp has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the death of the department's German Shepherd Zak.
Fortkamp was notified of the decision on Thursday afternoon prior to his regularly scheduled evening shift.
"This is not a disciplinary action, but one we feel is necessary until the investigation is complete," Sheriff Jeff Grey told the newspaper. "Chad is upset and cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation, but now is not a good time for him to be out on the road."
Fortkamp came to the sheriff's office on Wednesday while off duty to assist with reconstruction work related to a July 14 traffic accident that had claimed two lives. He reportedly had brought the dog but left him in the cruiser.
Despite temperatures in the 80s, neither the cruiser nor the air conditioner were running when Fortkamp found Zak dead in the backseat around 1 p.m.
A heat alarm system inside the cruiser was not running, according to Grey, who did not provide additional details about why the $995 alarm was not on.
A veterinarian, who performed the subsequent autopsy, indicated a perfectly healthy dog would not have survived the heat inside the cruiser. Zak had been cleared for duty by veterinary specialists at Ohio State University after a heart condition was found.
Headed by chief deputy Gery Thobe, the investigation is expected to determine how long the dog had been in the car and whether there was an automotive defect. Grey expects to announce the findings, as well as any disciplinary repercussions, by Aug. 10.
When the department's K-9 program was re-established in 2007, Grey said nearly $3,200 had been spent outfitting an existing cruiser with a cage, remote door opener, window guards, door panels and a heat alarm system.
That heat alarm system, which Grey said can be turned on and off, was designed to initiate when interior temperatures reach dangerous levels. It can activate headlights and the horn; automatically lower the windows and trigger a high velocity fan.
"Not all law enforcement agencies outfit their canine cars in this manner," Grey added. "We chose to add the option due to the expense of the dog and its importance to the department."
The sheriff's office has received emails from all over the country in response to the announcement of Zak's death. Some of the messages have been anything but professional
"Constructive criticism is fine but there is no need for name calling," Grey said. "There has been a firestorm of Facebook activity and blogs over this unfortunate tragedy."
He plans to meet with the Celina Moose and Eagles clubs, which donated $5,000 and $1,500 respectively, to purchase the German Shepherd.
"The Moose and the Eagles always have been there for law enforcement," Grey said. "I feel we have let their membership down. A K-9 should have seven to 10 productive years but it certainly did not turn out that way."
Jim Monroe, administrstor of the Moose Club, said Zak's death has been discussed by members.
"It was an accident and we're sorry it happened," he said. "We plan to sit back and wait to hear from the sheriff. We supported the K-9 program before and we're willing to support it again."
The program has been suspended for the time being. Zak is the department's second dog to die in a two-year period. Blek, also a German Shepherd, died in August 2010 of an intestinal obstruction.
Fortkamp also was his handler at the time.
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