Tuesday, March 20, 2012

EDITORIAL >> City mourns a firefighter

Jacksonville is mourning the loss of its first firefighter to fall in the line of duty.

Capt. Donald Jones, 56, a 31-year veteran of the Jacksonville Fire Department, was killed Monday night in a tragic accident that could have been avoided if a reckless driver had stayed away from the scene of an accident.

It started as an almost routine wreck around 10:30 p.m., when Thelma Allen swerved off Hwy. 161 South in Jacksonville and burst a gas main on the side of the road.

Jacksonville police and firefighters quickly responded. They had hoped to keep motorists away and blocked off the area as they were working the accident on the southbound lane of the highway not far from the North Belt Freeway. Allen was not hurt.

A few minutes later, her son, Bryce, 47, heard about the wreck and decided to drive around the barricades and emergency vehicles on the highway.

Ignoring the first responders, he slammed into Capt. Jones, who died almost instantly. Also hit were fellow firefighter Jason Bowmaster, 37, and Police Officer Daniel DiMatteo, 39. They were in stable in condition on Tuesday.

This senseless tragedy need not have happened if Bryce Allen, who has a long police record, had just stayed a few yards away from the first accident, which turned out to be not that serious.

There was a similar accident last spring on Hwy. 67/167 near I-440 involving a grandmother who had driven there after hearing about her grandson’s multi-car pileup. They were fine, but she was killed crossing the freeway.

Bryce Allen’s criminal past and possible mental impairment could complicate this case. He pleaded mental incompetence in a previous altercation with police. A similar verdict in Monday’s fatality would hardly comfort Capt. Jones’ family and his fellow firefighters. We mourn with them.