Suspect worked fire job despite ban for prior conviction

September 17, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

The Savage Volunteer Fire Company quietly reinstated a paramedic earlier this year after he had been banned from responding to ambulance calls because of his conviction for beating a woman, Howard County fire officials said.

James Scott Botschen, a volunteer since 1982, rode on at least six ambulance calls after officials at the company reinstated him without informing county administrators.

Mr. Botschen, 31, was arrested on new charges of rape, kidnapping and assault two weeks ago, and he has since been dismissed from the company.

Although county officials had suspended Mr. Botschen because of the earlier incident, he was reinstated three days after his conviction by former Savage company president Douglas Levy and Fire Chief Ernest Foster, according to a Jan. 20 memo the two men wrote. The memo says copies were sent to four senior county safety officials, but none ever received it, said Donald Howell, spokesman for the county Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

"The Savage Volunteer Fire Company took it upon itself to reinstate Mr. Botschen to active status," said Mr. Howell, but county officials did learn of the decision after the fact.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he too was aware Mr. Botschen was reinstated to full duties following the conviction, and agreed with the decision. "I think that's all history and beyond the point right now," he said. Mr. Ecker said he believes top fire officials also were aware of the decision.

But county fire officials say they did not learn that Mr. Botschen was riding out to emergency calls until Feb. 18, and on that day they issued a written order banning him from further calls, Mr. Howell said.

He confirmed that Mr. Botschen worked as an ambulance attendant on at least six calls between Feb. 7 and Feb. 13.

But as recently as last week, Mr. Levy was insisting that Mr. Botschen had not gone out on any calls following his conviction, and that his duties were confined to non-emergency work at the station.

Yesterday, when confronted with reports about Mr. Botschen riding on ambulance calls, Mr. Levy said his earlier statements had been misunderstood. He said he meant that Mr. Botschen was not riding ambulances at the time of his second arrest.

He also noted that memos on Mr. Botschen's status were placed the company bulletin board when he was reinstated.

"Nobody was hiding [the reinstatement]," Mr. Levy said. He acknowledged, however, that he did not notify Darl McBride, director of the county agency, about the reinstatement. Mr. Levy described it as an "oversight."

Mr. McBride, director of the fire and rescue services department, declined to be interviewed, referring questions to Mr. Howell.

Mr. Botschen was suspended on July 3, 1991, two days after his arrest for attacking an Olney woman. He was charged with second-degree rape and fourth-degree sexual offense, but was convicted on a lesser charge of battery.

The department and the fire company made an unwritten agreement after Mr. Botschen's arrest to suspend him from going out on ambulance calls, pending the outcome of the court case, Mr. Howell said. But after Mr. Botschen's conviction, fire company and county officials never met to discuss how to follow up on the suspension.

Mr. Levy, who is now the company's vice president, said the initial decision to suspend Mr. Botschen was made by the company, so it was the company's right to reinstate him.

"The county hadn't done anything," Mr. Levy said. "It wasn't an issue for the county."

The Jan. 20 memo addresses Mr. Botschen's return to active status.

"Because he has been away from the company for several months, [Mr.] Botschen will go through the same familiarization procedures as would any other member returning from leave," the memo said.

But when the county learned Mr. Botschen was answering service calls, the department put the suspension in writing on Feb. 18, Mr. Howell said.

The suspension prohibited the volunteer from participating in operational activities, including answering service calls. But he was allowed to perform such duties as clerical work and floor cleaning.

Mr. Botschen, who claims his address is the Savage fire station, was dismissed from the company earlier this month after being arrested for attacking two women in Anne Arundel County.

He is accused of raping one of the women and attempting to rape the other. Police have charged him with rape, attempted rape, kidnapping, battery and assault in those incidents.

Police say he took the women to a remote area of Curtis Bay, ordered them to remove their clothes, took their pictures with a Polaroid camera, then raped one of them. Police arrested him in his car with the second woman. Mr. Botschen had threatened the women with a butcher knife as they sat in his yellow 1972 Chrysler Newport, police said.

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