ST. CLOUD — A year ago, a woman in St. Cloud called Osceola County Fire Rescue and was taken to the hospital by ambulance for a medical problem. When she got released from the hospital and came back to her home on Lake Gentry Road, she discovered something odd.
“Her husband had died months before, and he had left behind a gun collection,” said Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. “When she returned home from the hospital, she noticed his guns were missing from the house.”
The woman assumed the house had been burglarized during her absence, and called law enforcement to report the theft.
“Detectives began investigating at that time,” Lizasuain said. “It appeared there wasn’t any forced entry, but it did look like a burglary.”
A year later, Osceola County detectives finally made an arrest in that case. What surprised everyone was the identity of the suspect: Douglas Werk, an Osceola County firefighter, who had been at the scene when Fire Rescue transported the St. Cloud woman to the hospital.
“It’s the first case like this that detectives have worked on,” Lizasuain said. “It certainly was a surprise that he was identified as the suspect.”
Larry Krause, public information coordinator for Osceola County’s Office of Community Outreach and Public Information, said Werk, 27, has been employed by the county for nearly a decade.
“He was hired on January 27, 2003,” Krause said, adding that since Werk got arrested, “He’s currently on unpaid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.”
Werk was arrested and charged with armed burglary, grand theft and violation of an injunction for possession of a firearm, and booked into the Osceola County Jail. The investigation is ongoing, Lizasuain said, since detectives want to know if Werk had been involved in similar criminal activities during the time he worked for the county.
“We’re looking at other possible (fire rescue) calls that he may have been on,” Lizasuain said. “There is a possibility there are other victims out there. And we’re still looking for the other nine guns” stolen from the St. Cloud home, Lizasuain said, since only one has been recovered so far.
This investigation started on June 1 2010, when the St. Cloud woman first contacted authorities about the stolen guns. It took detectives a while to focus suspicion on Werk. But two incidents changed the nature of the investigation.
Earlier this year, Werk got arrested and was charged with trespassing and possession of a concealed weapon in a case unrelated to the one in St. Cloud.
“It wasn’t until early February that this particular firefighter had been arrested for another charge, of trespassing,” Lizasuain said. “But at the time, there wsan’t enough information to make an arrest in this particular case.”
In that incident, Lizasuain said, Werk was spotted at a home in Kissimmee by a neighbor, who thought he was acting suspiciously when he went onto the property.
“He was seen by a neighbor walking on the property, and when he was questioned about it, said he was looking for a resident named Don,” Lizasuain said. “The neighbor said he had died. Werk said he wasn’t aware of that, but it seemed suspicious to the neighbor, so he called it in. There were clearly ‘No Trespassing’ signs on the property.”
When Werk got arrested, deputies found he had a weapon on him that hadn’t been registered.
“It was totally unrelated to this (St. Cloud) incident, but it was suspicious enough for detectives to look into,” Lizasuain said.
Detectives later searched Werk’s home, and recovered knives and several guns stored there. One of the guns taken into evidence was later confirmed to have been stolen from the Lake Gentry Road burglary.
“We do know he had a collection of weapons and knives on him,” Lizasuain said. “We located one of the guns from the Lake Gentry Road burglary. It had been purchased in the 1960s, and there was a receipt for it which the women still had on her, and that really helped. We were able to trace the serial number on it and confirm it had been stolen from her home. Based on that information, he was arrested for the burglary.”
Lizasuain said detectives don’t believe Werk robbed the home on the same night that fire rescue responded to the medical emergency call, but went back later.
“He would have been with other fire personnel at the scene,” she said. “What the detectives believe is he was at the house, and he became familar with the home and returned to it prior to the victim coming home.”
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