LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Whether or not a deceased fire chief's family will receive benefits is now in the hands of state and federal officials after autopsy results revealed a surprising cause of death.
It has been an emotional roller coaster at the Lake Dreamland Fire Department since former Chief John Wilkinson Jr. passed away in April.
"It’s a shock and it’s sad," said Bob Beam, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Lake Dreamland Fire Department.
During Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, it was announced that all the final paperwork on Wilkinson's death had been passed off to Kentucky and federal officials for review.
At stake is whether or not Wilkinson's family would receive death benefits.
John Wilkinson, Jr. had only been on the job for 18 months when he passed away on April 13.
The fire department originally reported that Wilkinson died of cardiac disease, but the recently released autopsy report points to drugs and alcohol as Wilkinson’s primary cause of death, and cardiac disease as a secondary factor. These results have now forced the matter to state and federal officials who must decide how much, if any, Wilkinson’s family will receive in benefits.
“It was like reliving his death all over again,” said Chief Freddie George. “No one wanted to believe what the report said . It was an unfortunate event. No one in any shape or form saw this coming.”
The cause of death could affect whether Wilkinson is considered to have died in the line of duty or as an active firefighter, and that decision will significantly affect whether Wilkinson's family will receive death benefits.
"Our hearts and our hands reach out to them in any way possible,” said Beam.
The commission will vote on whether to approve or deny benefits, a process that could take weeks or months. Once the results are final, the feds will review the report and issue their findings.
The Wilkinson family could not be reached for comment.