Some two months after responding to a 911 call involving Sheriff Ted Paxton at a home in north Forsyth, the Forsyth County Fire Department conducted an internal investigation into how firefighters handled the situation.
A report of the review, which was begun March 22 and completed Wednesday, sheds new light on the events that occurred Jan. 13 and suggests alcohol consumption was the primary cause of the incident.
Emergency responders were called that night to a house on Lakeside Court after a woman reported the man who had been watching her baby while she was away from home was lying unconscious in her doorway.
Though no official records identify Paxton as the man, the sheriff has admitted he was the subject of the call.
Paxton contends that the situation is a “private matter” and that he had a medical issue involving his blood sugar which caused him to pass out. Paxton, who is seeking a fourth term as sheriff, maintains that the circulation of the woman’s 911 call throughout the community and subsequent allegations that he was drunk are politically motivated.
Former deputy Duane Piper and Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald have announced their intention to run for the top law enforcement post in this year’s elections.
Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman said Friday he was not aware of the Jan. 13 incident when it happened.
“Health privacy laws are so restrictive that I am not surprised that no one mentioned this to me,” Bowman said. “My firefighters are so professional that they wouldn’t have conveyed that to me.”
Bowman said he became aware of the matter about two weeks ago after receiving an open records request for a departmental report of the incident.
“I initiated the internal investigation of my own free will and accord, because I felt that the report was correct but incomplete,” Bowman said.
The narrative of the initial report shows that upon arrival, the firefighters “found no emergency on scene” and does not give further detail about what happened.
Bowman said he directed Division Chief Kevin Wallace to look into the matter.
Wallace interviewed the three firefighters — Lt. Nathan Head, Daniel Delashmit and Helmut Fischer — who responded to the incident and included their statements in his report of the internal investigation.
As a result, the men were found to have violated departmental guidelines by not filing a patient care report. Bowman said he is considering issuing them a verbal warning for the infraction.
A copy of Wallace’s internal investigation was provided to the Forsyth County News by the county attorney’s office.
Paxton, 59, is not identified by name in the report, which shows that the firefighters found an “elderly male lying in the doorway over the threshold with the door open” when they arrived.
It also shows that they checked the man’s vital signs, determined he did not need medical attention and that he repeatedly refused treatment and transportation to a hospital for evaluation.
The statements show that the firefighters helped the man to the bathroom. The man allegedly asked the firefighters, “Do y’all want my job?” and said “go ahead and tell all the papers your sheriff is drunk.”
One of the statements shows that the woman, who has been identified as Paula Olsen, said she didn’t think the man had any medical problems and that she showed Head “an empty alcohol bottle in the kitchen. She advised that the bottle had been half full.”
The report goes on to say that the firefighters believed the man “was only intoxicated due to our evaluation, his demeanor and actions while we were on scene.”
In another statement, Delashmit said he asked the man if he had been drinking and if so how much.
“He then replied, ‘a lot,’” according to the statement shows. It also shows the man appeared agitated.
Fischer’s statement reveals that Olsen declined to identify the man and that while the man was in the bathroom, two deputies arrived, spoke to her and left.
Olsen assured the firefighters the man could sleep on her couch and that she would check on him and they left.
Paxton has said that when Olsen came home that night, he got up to leave and passed out in her doorway.
According to Paxton, she was confused about what had happened and told the 911 Center employee who answered her emergency call that he had been drinking because she assumed that was why he passed out.
In a recording of the 911 call, a male voice can be heard saying “I just had too much to drink.”
He said Friday the assertion that he was intoxicated is “a matter of opinion” and that he has seen his doctor since the episode. Paxton was quoted in a March 25 article about the matter saying that he just had a sip of alcohol.
“The introduction of that one drink of alcohol, because I had not been eating, caused an imbalance in my blood sugar levels,” Paxton said. “I am very appreciative to those individuals from the fire department and EMS that responded.”
Paxton said he clearly remembers the conversation he had with the firefighters and saying “your sheriff is drunk.”
“I made that statement out of frustration, and it was in a sarcastic tone, because I recognized one of the firefighters on the scene as a close family friend of another firefighter who is a very vocal and public supporter of one of my announced opponents in the sheriff’s race,” Paxton said.
“The writing was on the wall that this was going to be put out there on a manipulated, massaged, orchestrated character assassination. And lo and behold, I was able to predict the future.”
Paxton further said the issue is campaign-related, and as such, he has directed employees of the sheriff’s office to refer questions about the incident to Frank Huggins, his campaign manager.
Huggins, who worked for the agency for 10 years and served as spokesman, retired as a captain in December 2010.
Paxton said there is no evidence to suggest that the two deputies who arrived at the house that night violated policy, and as such the agency is not conducting an internal investigation of the matter.
He said deputies may respond on occasion to medical emergencies, if they are in the area and feel they may be able to help, and leave once emergency medical personnel arrive.
A crew from Forsyth County EMS also responded to the Jan. 13 incident. A report of their activity shows that when they arrived, firefighters were already there and there was no patient to be found.
J.B. Owen, vice president of the company, said an internal investigation of the crew’s response is not being conducted.
“We are satisfied with the way it was handled from our standpoint,” he said, adding that the fact Paxton was involved did not change how they treated the situation.
“It doesn’t matter who it was, it could’ve been Pope Benedict … or if it had been John Q. Citizen, it would’ve been handled the exact same way, from our standpoint, regardless of who it was,” Owen said.