800,000 Tax Dollars

Dog falls into rushing water.  Owner jumps in after dog.  The owner was Harris County Deputy Eddie Wotipka and his family may get an extra $800,000 because he didn’t bother to “clock out” before rushing to attempt to save his dog.  HUH?

I totally understand what he did.  I would probably have jumped in to try to save one of my dogs too.  My sympathies go out to his family for their losses of both him and the dog.  But there’s another story here too that we shouldn’t hesitate to discuss, that shouldn’t be buried in the Houston Chronicle in separated bits.

Wotipka was on duty at the time of his death, officials said. He was in uniform and had driven home in his assigned patrol vehicle and had not logged off his computer terminal or called dispatchers by radio to say he was off-duty…  Officers are paid for the time they are traveling between work and home because they are on call, he said…  Sheriff's officials say the potential benefits paid to Wotipka's survivors will depend on whether county, state and federal agencies determine the deputy died in the line of duty or was acting in the scope of his job.  The benefits, from the Texas Workers Compensation System, the Texas County and District Employees Retirement System and the U.S. Department of Justice, could total more than $800,000 and would be in addition to the standard Sheriff's Office life insurance policy.”

He removed his portable radio and gun and plunged into the swiftly running water to try to save his pet around 11:15 p.m.”  His shift was almost certainly over at 11:00 p.m. and the moment he removed his radio at a distance from his vehicle, he ceased to be available for calls.  PERIOD.  He had taken himself off duty by being unavailable.  I don’t care that he didn’t log out on his computer or call in to call off shift.  I completely understand his rushing to the aid of his pet but that does NOT mean his family should get paid benefits as though he on duty.  He most certainly was not acting in the line of duty or within the scope of his job.  He was on personal business, period, end of discussion.  That these benefits are even being considered is utterly outrageous.

Officers get far better than average death benefits and these extra benefits are for dying IN THE LINE OF DUTY; not for tending one’s personal business while off duty.  The taxpayers should wholeheartedly object to any consideration of paying these benefits in cases like these and nobody should feel poorly for objecting.  There is always an outpouring of sympathy and money for the families of fallen officers whether they die on duty or off.  “Goerlitz said the union is planning a fundraiser for the Wotipka family on July 31.”  Quite frankly, objecting to the payout of tax dollars will only increase the private donations which could actually exceed the extra government benefits.  Don’t feel bad about telling the government NOT to spend tax dollars inappropriately.

The Houston Chronicle obviously sees it as worthy of some coverage but, for whatever reasons, isn't making an issue of this and they SHOULD make an issue of this.  If the Sheriff's office is willing to put it out there as "on duty at the time of his death" and do so at this time, then it is time for people to express their objections no matter how "sensitive" some may see the issue.    I think the Sheriff's office expects to keep people from objecting because it would be "in poor taste" but it is not in poor taste, merely timely since they put the matter right in our faces and in expectations of us flinching.  Don't flinch.

This man’s family deserves sympathy for their losses but they do not deserve hazard pay for this man dying while trying to save his own dog, after shift, near his own home.

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