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Largo firefighters lose jobs over gun turned in at station

LARGO — The anonymous good Samaritan apparently thought it was a good idea to turn a loaded gun over to firefighters for safekeeping until the cops could come pick it up.

But three firefighters at Largo Station 40 in High Point had another idea. Rather than calling the cops or their supervisor, they took it apart, examined it and then put it in one firefighter's glove compartment.

Now, two of them have lost their jobs. The third has been suspended for a shift without pay. And the Hernando County sheriff has the gun.

None are facing criminal charges because of a "lack of evidence," city records show.

Resigning June 13 was firefighter/paramedic Lewis Bradford, who had worked for the Largo Fire Department since 1992. Bradford was earning about $66,159 a year.

Bradford wrote on his resignation that he was leaving because "I want to farm full time." But the form notes that the resignation was "in lieu of dismissal" and "improper conduct." The form also says Largo would not rehire him.

Resigning June 14 was firefighter/paramedic Michael A. Ledford, who had been with the Largo department since 2006. He was earning $51,406 a year.

Ledford said his reason for leaving was a "decision to seek alternative employment opportunity." The resignation form noted that his departure was "by mutual agreement" and that he "made (a) poor decision." It indicates that he is eligible to be rehired by the city.

Suspended for 24 hours without pay was firefighter/emergency medical technician Brad Lonkey, who started working for the Largo department in 1989. The suspension cost him $527.76.

City investigative records say it happened this way:

The three were on duty June 10 at Fire Station 40 at 2990 Whitney Road. All were napping after lunch when a lawn service worker rang the doorbell. Bradford answered and the man handed him a loaded gun, saying he and his crew had found it in a ditch along Whitney Road and Shoreline Drive. The man said he'd called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, but no one ever came to get the gun. He said he couldn't wait any longer and asked if Bradford would take the gun.

Bradford said he put the gun in his glove compartment because it was against the rules to have a weapon inside the station. He said he resumed napping and forgot about the gun until the next day when he turned it over to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Largo officials say Bradford lives in Hernando.

But Lonkey said Bradford brought the gun inside and showed it to the others. Bradford said he "would like to have another gun for his car," Lonkey told fire department investigators.

"They touched the gun, took it apart, discussed who would keep it," the Largo report says. Lonkey "stated he later asked if (Bradford) was going to turn it in. … Lonkey stated both (Bradford and Ledford) told him no one would ever find out, just keep his mouth shut. He stated he told them he could not keep their secret and they forced him to keep quiet. He stated that peer pressure kept him from reporting the incident at the time it occurred. He stated he could not eat or sleep and needed to do the right thing. He told (the investigator) he did not want anyone to lose their job."

Bradford called Largo interim fire Chief Shelby Willis the day after he got the gun and after he turned it over to Hernando. Lonkey called the day after that to report the gun.

Bradford and Lonkey could not be reached for comment. Ledford said he did not know that a citizen had turned in the gun. Ledford said he resigned because Largo has a no-tolerance policy on weapons and, as acting lieutenant that day, he was ultimately responsible.

Hernando sheriff's spokesman Denise Molony said the department sent the gun to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing. "They're pretty relatively sure it wasn't used in a crime," Molony said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Largo firefighters lose jobs over gun turned in at station 06/24/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 8:56pm]
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