Friday, March 23, 2012

TOP STORY >> Fallen firefighter is buried

Leader staff writer

Funeral services began at noon Saturday at McArthur Assembly of God Church in Jacksonville for Capt. Donald Jones, who was killed while responding to an accident.

About 250 people attended Thursday night’s candlelight vigil in his honor at the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial at the Arch Street Fire Station in Little Rock.

Jones, 56, was killed Monday night after Bryce Allen, 47, of Jacksonville drove around emergency vehicles and struck him, firefighter Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DiMatteo as they were working the accident at 8411 Hwy. 161.

His is the first death in the line of duty for the Jacksonville Fire Department.

The other two men are in stable condition.

Bowmaster’s wife, Ashley, said at the vigil, “None of them deserved this. He knows about his captain. He keeps thinking it’s happening to him over and over again every time he wakes up.”

The couple has a 7-year-old daughter named Bailey.

She said her husband’s injuries include a collapsed lung. Bowmaster was put back on a ventilator Thursday morning and will be taken to Tulsa for surgery.

Capt. Kenny Boyd, public information officer for the Jacksonville Police Department, said DiMatteo is doing well.

“He is recovering from (Thursday’s) surgery. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but he’s doing well,” he said.

Jones’ 17-year-old grandson, Tanner Hancock, flew in from California when he heard the news.

At the vigil, he said that the last memory he has of Jones is saying goodbye to him at the end of Christmas break. They liked to hunt and fish together.

“He was a great grandpa,” Hancock said.

Jones’ younger brother, Bruce, thanked everyone for being supportive of the family.

He described his brother as “always kind and generous.”

“He was a great outdoors man. He and his wife did that together. They were a great match. They had so much in common. They were kindred spirits,” he said.

Jones had three brothers and he was the eldest.

His youngest brother, Jon, a Jacksonville engineer/firefighter, said, “He inspired me to become a fireman. It was a tragic loss of a great firefighter, a great father, a great person.”

Jones’ widow did not make it to the vigil because she is dealing with a lot right now, Jacksonville Fire Chief John Vanderhoof told the crowd.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said he has spoken to Vanderhoof, who has been with the department for more than 40 years, about what he wants his “legacy” to be when he retires.

Vanderhoof’s enrollment under the Deferred Retirement Option Program ends in a year and a half.

Fletcher said the chief wanted his “legacy” to be getting a better fire rating for the city and he has done a good job at that.

“But (Vanderhoof’s legacy) will be the department he built. Under the stress and strain, our firefighters have not compromised the quality or integrity of their work. There are three things I tell people they need to know. God is God, God is good and Jesus is Lord,” the mayor said.

Allen was charged with second-degree murder and criminal attempt to commit murder. He pled not guilty in district court Tuesday.

Boyd said Allen claimed that his accelerator had stuck.

The police report said the investigation showed that Allen made no attempt to brake, accelerated before hitting the three men and appeared to be aiming toward them.

“In reality, we had one accident and that was the one they were working. The other was not an accident,” Boyd said.

Allen has a violent past and a history of mental problems, including being bipolar, delusions about the Ku Klux Klan and hallucinations.

Allen is being held at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility on a $750,000 bond.

If he makes bail, he will be released to a State Hospital. His case will be tried in the Pulaski County Circuit Court.

The tragedy occurred after police officers and firefighters responded around 10:30 p.m. Monday to a single-vehicle accident.

Bryce Allen’s mother, Thelma Allen, left the roadway and struck a gas main. She was not seriously injured. The cause of her accident has not been determined yet, Boyd said Friday.

Police officers would like a man who was driving a red or maroon pick-up truck southbound on Hwy. 161 on between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Monday to speak with detective Stallings at 501-982-0277, ext. 2236.

Boyd said other witnesses told them about the pick-up truck.

There aren’t any other agencies involved in the investigation, he said.

Boyd said the department is looking into safety procedures and providing more education on the dangers of working accident scenes.

“We always evaluate situations like this to see if anything could have been done differently,” he said.