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Accident Investigation Involving Firefighter Found Positive for Cocaine Nears Conclusion

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- The nearly three-month investigation into a wreck by an on-duty Columbus, Ga., firefighter and the son of a city councilor is nearing a conclusion, though no date for its completion has been set.

Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington, who called for the investigation into the wreck by Zachary Allen and any potential cover-up within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said this week he expects the probe to be completed soon. He did not give a time when the Columbus Police Department's Office of Professional Standards will wrap up the investigation, which started Dec. 11.

As part of the investigation, Wetherington was interviewed last week.

"I was the last person to give a statement," the mayor said. "That's what Internal Affairs told me. They have 26 tapes to get typed up, then they have to summarize the investigation. The interviews have concluded. Now, it's a matter of putting the report together."

Police Chief Ricky Boren has referred all questions about the investigation to Wetherington's office.

Allen, the son of four-term Columbus Councilor Gary Allen, hit two cars at the intersection of Interstate 185 and Macon Road en route to a call at Pratt & Whitney on Nov. 28, 2006. LaLinriafaye Wilson of Columbus was injured in the wreck. The firefighter, who had been with the department a year, tested positive for cocaine in a post-accident drug test. Facing termination, Allen resigned the day after the accident.

During the Ledger-Enquirer's investigation, it was discovered that Allen's personnel file with the Human Resources Department listed him as eligible for rehire by the city. City officials have since said that was a mistake.

Three months after his wreck and positive drug test, Allen applied for a firefighter's job in LaGrange. In that application package was a letter of recommendation apparently from Deputy Chief David Starling, who knew of Allen's positive drug test and suspension the night it happened. Starling has denied writing that letter.

The Columbus Police Department, Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the city's Risk Management Department all investigated the wreck.

News of Allen's positive drug test came out in a Ledger-Enquirer investigation published Dec. 9. LaLinriafaye Wilson's attorney, Ben Philips, has threatened a $2 million lawsuit against the city and had been in settlement talks. Philips did not know of the positive drug test until he was shown a copy of the results by a reporter prior to publication of the story.

At the time the investigation began, Boren said nothing would be off limits to the investigation team, led by Maj. Lem Miller.

"The investigation will center around the entire incident," he said. "It will go from prior to the time of the wreck to date. We will look at all policies governing alcohol and drug policies within public safety, as well as all the practices that were followed."

Though nobody will say how many people have been interviewed, it is believed to be extensive, possibly more than 50. Wetherington called it a thorough investigation.

"I don't know how many people they have talked to, but I know when it's over I will get a complete report," Wetherington said.

Gary Allen cooperated with investigators, attorney Richard Hagler said. Others who were interviewed include former Mayor Bob Poydasheff, who was in office at the time of Zachary Allen's wreck, and a number of members of the Fire and EMS command staff, including Chief Jeff Meyer.

Wetherington said that any disciplinary action taken as a result of the investigation would be his decision alone.

"It will be up to me to finalize this investigation," said Wetherington, a former Columbus police chief.

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