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Chief’s suicide under scrutiny

Fire: Local official who shot himself in Ventura may have been under investigation

Posted: November 20, 2010 9:12 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

VENTURA — A Los Angeles County Fire Department chief who committed suicide in a Ventura County parking lot last month may have been under investigation for contract irregularities, a Ventura County coroner’s official confirmed.

“I made the comment without having any clue: ‘Was there anything going at work that might have troubled him?’” Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Stevens said last week of his investigation into the death of Timothy Ottman.

“The answer was: ‘Possibly. He was one of a group within the L.A. County itself’ and that there were irregularities involved with contracts.

“Apparently, (Ottman) was a civic employee who dealt with various contract situations,” Stevens said. “He was amongst others investigated for something.

“Beyond that, I didn’t get into it,” said the deputy medical examiner.

Ottman, 52, shot himself in the head with a .45 caliber pistol in a Ventura strip mall parking lot Oct. 26.

Ottman, a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department, was a civilian chief in charge of the Construction and Maintenance Division and was involved in getting five new fire stations built in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Four L.A. County fire chiefs contacted by The Signal repeatedly last week each said they were not permitted to discuss the case as a matter of policy and procedure. A project manager with the department did not return repeated calls left by The Signal.

“This involves sensitive personnel matters, and I cannot comment,” said Los Angeles County Counsel attorney Scott Kuhn, who oversees legal issues for the county involving the fire department.

Similarly, Ottman’s boss, Deputy Chief Scott Poster, who is in support services and buildings, said Ottman “would report to me” and added: “When it comes to lawsuits and things like this, we don’t confirm or deny.

“It’s a sad situation.”

Suicide notes left
In his official coroner’s report on Ottman’s death, Stevens wrote: “When the decedent was rolled onto his back, a handwritten note fell out the left side of the shorts.

The note stated: ‘Please call my wife, Val’ with a telephone number listed. It continued: ‘PS: I own the white pickup truck, keys are inside .... PS, I’m sorry you had to see this.”

When investigators looked inside the truck, they found “a framed picture showing what appeared to be a bride, groom and several children. Beneath the picture was a sealed envelope with the name ‘Val’ written on it,” the report said.

Six other sealed envelopes on the driver’s seat were addressed to “Val” and others, including “the Ottman family.”

Stevens opened two of the envelopes found inside Ottman’s truck addressed to “Val,” he wrote in his report.

It reads: “One of the notes read in part, ‘I hurt the Dept. I love, people I work with ...”

This led Stevens ultimately to contact the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Wife confirms
Ottman’s wife, Valerie, was asked last week if there was an investigation and if the probe contributed to her husband’s death. Her answer was: “Yes, to all the above.”

No one in the Fire Department, however, would comment on the case when asked to either confirm or deny reports of an investigation.

“I have no comment and I cannot provide confirmation without authorization,” said Battalion Chief William Mayfield, who was among the Fire Department officials who notified the family of Ottman’s death.

As for the probe allegedly involving an investigation into contracts involving Ottman, The Signal found at least a dozen contracts relating to fire stations being built in Santa Clarita Valley that would have eventually landed on Ottman’s desk awaiting his signature.

Although The Signal has received no indication that the contracts calling for the construction of a dozen local fire stations between now and 2015 have anything to do with the “contracts” referenced by the department, they remain the most immediate contracts being discussed.

The dozen fire stations slated for the Santa Clarita Valley are listed on the agenda for Tuesday’s Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting in Los Angeles.

The Fire Department’s Chief of Planning Division, Debbie Aguirre, told The Signal on Friday that contracts pertaining to the construction of the dozen fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley would have ultimately ended up on Ottman’s desk for approval.

“Most of these contracts are land agreements,” she said, adding her division handles the paperwork involved in completing land transactions.

“When they are ready for construction, eventually, they are handed over to the Construction and Maintenance Division,” where Ottman worked.

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