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Hillsborough fire chief on leave after fight with wife

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's fire chief went on indefinite leave Monday after a domestic dispute during the weekend left him facing a possible felony aggravated assault charge.

Bill Nesmith, 59, is accused by his wife of four months of threatening to shoot her and himself during an argument at their Indian Rocks Beach apartment.

County Administrator Pat Bean said Nesmith has agreed to use accrued vacation time while he addresses fallout from the incident. He has roughly 12 weeks of unused time, she said.

The county will see how the case progresses before deciding what, if any, actions are necessary, she said.

Nesmith, who is paid $139,277 annually, has worked for the county since 1994 after 24 years with Tampa Fire Rescue. Bill Singleton, Nesmith's chief of operations, will fill in for him.

Commissioners reached Monday said they, too, would wait to learn more before reacting to the allegations. One, Rose Ferlita, said she is surprised a top emergency official is permitted to live outside the county and that there is no succession plan in place.

Bean said she does not believe many counties have a residence requirement for top officials, and she doesn't see a need for one now. She noted that she returned early from a Washington, D.C., conference to respond to the incident.

Pinellas County sheriff's deputies responded to Nesmith's Pelican Cove condo in dramatic fashion shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday. They evacuated his floor before asking him to step out with his arms raised, then ordered him to the ground.

His wife, Beverly Nesmith, told deputies that her husband had threatened to shoot himself and her. Mrs. Nesmith said her husband accused her of "whoring around."

Nesmith told deputies he did indeed confront his wife after she returned home late after not calling all day to let him know where she was. He denied threatening to shoot anyone.

"She's wacked. & I'm the Hills­borough County fire chief for crying out loud," Nesmith is quoted in an incident report. "She's wacked. & I'm not going to shoot myself or her."

An offense report indicated that Nesmith had been drinking alcohol. It indicates Nesmith told deputies that he and his wife have had several arguments in recent weeks and have thought about getting divorced.

His wife told deputies she called them after Nesmith went into his bedroom and she feared he might be retrieving a gun. Deputies recovered a revolver from his personal car and an automated pistol from his work vehicle.

A county policy prohibits employees from bringing guns onto county property.

Nesmith's personnel file shows little of note. On a scale of 1 to 5, his evaluation scores typically averaged 3 or 4. In the past year, he faced two workplace complaints, neither of which was sustained.

Staff writer Nicole Hutcheson contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough fire chief on leave after fight with wife 03/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 7:51am]
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