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Former Safety Harbor Fire Chief William Jay Stout committed suicide, official says

SAFETY HARBOR — For the second time in nearly eight months, a former city official has committed suicide.

Early Wednesday, former Safety Harbor Fire Chief William Jay Stout "passed away," according to an e-mail his successor sent to city department heads.

"Details will be forthcoming later," Joe Accetta said in the message.

"All I know is that he committed suicide," Assistant City Manager Bill Baker said. "We are very saddened by the loss of a man who spent many years serving the people of Safety Harbor and who was a good friend."

Safety Harbor woke up to similarly tragic news in September when Keith Zayac, a former city commissioner and vice mayor, was found in a pickup at his business, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In a report Wednesday, officials at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said investigators received a 911 call at 2:40 a.m. from Stout's Marshall Street home. When deputies went inside the house, they found Stout dead. His body was taken to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

"It's not a homicide," Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor said. "They're not looking for any criminals. It's not a burglary, robbery, home invasion kind of thing. It's an unnatural death, but it's not suspicious."

Stout, who turned 62 on Friday, was the longest serving fire chief in the county when he retired, said Mike Cooksey, Pinellas' fire division manager.

"Jay was an outstanding fire chief," said Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, a former Safety Harbor city commissioner. "He was the first professional fire chief in Safety Harbor and grew that department into a first-class department."

Stout became a firefighter in 1973, was promoted to fire inspector a year later and was named fire chief in 1976. He grew up in the area and used to tell Brickfield stories about how the city used to pass up blazes on the north end of Safety Harbor, where a number of orange groves once stood.

"They would more just watch it to make sure it didn't continue to spread," Brickfield said. "When he started, we didn't have countywide ambulance service. If you were in an unincorporated area and you needed service, you better contract with a private service or drive yourself. It's due to the efforts of chiefs like Jay that everybody is granted fire service."

He quietly retired from the department on Nov. 30, 2002, after 29 years on the job. He returned to the chief's post a month later and collected his regular salary and his state retirement pension. Stout retired again in May 2009 when the city offered lucrative pay incentives to employees as part of a voluntary separation package to prevent layoffs.

"I'm going to do some kayaking and spend time with my wife," he told the St. Petersburg Times a few weeks before his retirement.

Baker said he had hardly seen Stout since he left the department.

"I went boat riding on one of his kayaks right before he retired," he said. "I think he's been traveling a lot."

Brickfield said Stout was a great redfish fisherman.

"He was one of the few men that I knew that didn't come home empty-handed every time he fished in Old Tampa Bay," he said. "He will be missed. What a shame. There's a lot of people just shocked today."

Times staff writer Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Former Safety Harbor Fire Chief William Jay Stout committed suicide, official says 05/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 7:53pm]
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