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Officer's cause of death could diminish benefits

 
Published March 17, 1998|Updated Sept. 12, 2005

As long as the Sheriff's Office continues to investigate the death of Officer Christopher Horner as a homicide, the government will continue to pay his widow and children benefits that could reach $1-million, officials said Monday.

But the state will try to reclaim the benefits it has paid if Horner's death is ruled a suicide, one official said. And Horner's life insurance benefits from the city could be cut in half if he didn't die in the line of duty.

The Sheriff's Office classifies Horner's death investigation as a homicide, but Sheriff Lawrence W. Crow Jr. said Friday that investigators have come across information that indicates Horner, 35, may have shot himself with his own handgun March 3. His death certificate says the cause of death is "pending."

The Haines City officer's body was found in Oakland Cemetery about 30 minutes after he radioed a dispatcher that he was checking on a suspicious vehicle.

The state's Victim's Compensation fund, operated by the Attorney General's Office, sent Horner's wife, Noreen, a check for $15,000. She received it shortly after Horner died, Haines City police Lt. Frank Caterino said.

If his death is ruled a suicide, the state will ask for the money back, said Jacquelyn Dupree, bureau chief of the state's Victim's Compensation fund.

"We don't pay if it's a suicide," Dupree said. "We would have to recoup it."

Mrs. Horner could not be reached for comment Monday. She did not return two messages left on her answering machine.

The victims' fund is separate from other city, state and federal sources that could pay Horner's wife and six children nearly $1-million in benefits if Horner were slain.

If Horner's death is ruled a suicide, the only benefit his dependents would be eligible for is a $20,000 life insurance policy.

Haines City provides employees with a $20,000 life insurance policy and pays an additional $20,000 if an employee is killed while on the job. Suicide is not covered in the extra $20,000.

If the death is ruled a suicide, the family also would not receive up to $162,000 in benefits from the federal government and a private national organization. State payments to the family of an officer killed in the line of duty can total $192,500. That does not include college tuition for children at state universities, a spouse's education at a community college or vocational school, or health benefits paid to a spouse and children.

Officials at the First National Bank of Polk County would not comment Monday on how much money the bank has collected in the Christopher Horner fund or how much it has already given to his wife, if any.