Volume 4 Number 17
April 27, 2007

DETECTIVE AMY, FIRE MARSHAL K-9, HELPS WIN 20-YEAR SENTENCE AGAINST PANAMA CITY MAN WHO KILLED DOG IN FIRE

Detective Amy, a Labrador, advances the arson investigation with some “Lab” tests of her own 

A man who set fire to his home during an argument with his girlfriend was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison after being convicted in Bay County Circuit Court on charges of arson and felony cruelty to animals.  The jury returned the guilty verdict after 13 minutes of deliberation, based largely on evidence produced by one hard-nosed witness – a black Labrador Retriever named Amy that serves as a detective with the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. 

Timothy Reese, 43, set fire to his home at 6901 Sunset Ave., around 1 a.m. on September 19, 2005.  Bay County Fire Department requested the assistance of Amy, the Lab, and her partner Detective Tommy Barron, and they discovered samples and burn patterns that proved Reese set the fire.  The girlfriend escaped from a bedroom window with bruises and scratches, but her dog, also a Labrador Retriever, was not able to escape.  

“Arson is always a violent crime-- there is always the risk that someone can be hurt or killed,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal.  “I congratulate our K-9 team and everyone who helped bring this criminal to justice.”

The investigation determined that Reese poured gasoline from a five-gallon can throughout the home and then told his girlfriend,” I am going to end this now,” before setting the home on fire.  Because of the amount of fuel involved, Reese was also burned.  An autopsy of the deceased dog proved it died as a result of the fire. Further, despite protests by the defense that the fire was started by the girlfriend, evidence samples collected by Detective Barron and Amy, then tested by the Fire Marshal’s forensic laboratory, proved only Reese could have set the fire. Bay County Circuit Court Judge Dedee S. Costello handed down the 20-year sentence.

Amy has been with the Bureau since May 2005 and is one of five accelerant detection canines that State Farm Insurance Company has provided to the Bureau as part of its Arson Dog Program.  Often when a substance such as gasoline is used, the residual amount after a fire is so small that only scientific equipment in a laboratory can confirm it.  But the olfactory senses of a dog are sometimes more sensitive than laboratory equipment. 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  To report suspected arson, call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).