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Polk County may settle with family of woman who died in house fire

Loretta Pickard was on the phone with a dispatcher while crews were outside, waiting for a rescue that never arrived.
Credit: Family photo
Loretta Pickard, 76, died when her log home burned in November 2018.

BARTOW, Fla. — Polk County is considering a one-time $200,000 settlement with the family of a woman who died in a fire while on the phone with a dispatcher who assured her help was on the way.

Loretta Pickard, 76, died Nov. 23 when her Bartow home caught fire. 

In a 911 call, Pickard can be heard pleading for help for several minutes as she is reassured by a dispatcher that help is on the way.

“They know I’m in here, right?” Pickard asks. 

“Yes, they know you’re in there. I did let them know. They know you’re in there,” the dispatcher answers.

Help, however, was not on the way. The fire official in charge at the scene, Capt. James Williams, decided there was too great a risk to enter the home.

An investigation, however, found Williams had posted images of the fire scene on Snapchat. It also found vital information was not relayed to crews at the scene.

Related: Victim's family say elderly woman died in fire waiting for rescue that didn't come

Related: Report on deadly Polk County fire faults dispatch, firefighters for lack of communication

Williams was placed on administrative duty, then later resigned. Documents obtained by 10News showed Williams was about to be fired anyway. 

The county board of commissioners is due to consider the settlement on July 16.

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