This Cessna 172 crash-landed Dec. 8 at Paine Field. (Dave Tannahill)

This Cessna 172 crash-landed Dec. 8 at Paine Field. (Dave Tannahill)

Fire chief was a ‘no-show’ to plane crash at Paine Field

Jeff Bohnet, who has since retired, said he was “traumatized,” apparently because of an investigation.

EVERETT — The former fire chief at Snohomish County’s Paine Field refused to respond to a plane crash at the airport earlier this month, according to documents obtained by The Daily Herald. He was supposed to be on duty at the time.

“The fire chief was a no-show,” Airport Director Arif Ghouse wrote in an internal email.

The chief, Jeff Bohnet, later wrote Ghouse that he had been too upset that day. Apparently, he was referring to being the subject of a police investigation that prompted newspaper coverage.

“I have truly been traumatized by the events that have taken place since last Thursday (Dec. 7),” he wrote using his county email. “I would ask that you take a moment to think about what it must be like to be in my shoes. I don’t think I was mentally prepared to respond to that accident and perform at the level you would expect me to.”

Bohnet could not be reached for comment for this story, and the county declined to provide additional contact information. Public records show he faced challenges in the weeks surrounding the plane crash.

On Dec. 1, he gave two-weeks notice that he planned to retire. He asked to use vacation for his remaining time but was told he was needed on site.

On Dec. 6, police wrapped up their case. They were looking into allegations that he bent county rules to get his hands on the frame from an old fire truck. Detectives determined he didn’t commit a crime but likely violated surplus policies. The next day, The Herald published details about the case. Then Bohnet announced he was retiring from his volunteer role with the Mukilteo Civil Service Commission.

At 1:45 p.m. Dec. 8 — less than two hours before the plane crash — Ghouse sent Bohnet an email. It said his retirement would be allowed, but it would be considered “not in good standing.”

Then, a Cessna 172 made a rough touchdown on a runway, went through a fence and onto a public road. Within the hour, a second small plane also crashed on the runway, reporting a gear problem. Everyone survived.

At first, though, the initial crash triggered an alert for crews, indicating the most serious type of incident that can happen at the airport.

The fire captain who was in charge of the scene told Ghouse that he couldn’t find Bohnet. As the emergency wound down, Ghouse directed the captain to call Bohnet on his cellphone. Bohnet said he was “south of the airport” and would not be responding, according to county records.

Bohnet lives in Mukilteo. He had his county-issued emergency rig at the time.

“He had not asked for time off and was a no-show to the incident,” Ghouse told the newspaper.

Ghouse also memorialized the events of that day in a memo just after 5 p.m. It was sent to staff in human resources and the county executive’s office.

“Don’t know why he didn’t respond,” Ghouse wrote.

More emails followed.

At 7:19 p.m., Bohnet emailed Ghouse back about the “not in good standing” comment. He said that if he knew about the police investigation, he would have postponed retirement to clear up any questions.

“ ‘Not in good standing’ is not what I deserve to have in the letter from you,” he wrote.

On Dec. 11, Ghouse emailed Bohnet again, this time about the no-show.

“The primary responsibility of the airport fire department is responding to aircraft emergencies,” he said.

Ghouse went on: “The airport/county is disappointed that you chose not to respond to an aircraft crash to provide leadership to your team and your total lack of communication with airport senior management during the emergency.”

Bohnet wrote back 25 minutes later, saying he missed the crash because he was “traumatized.”

Ghouse put Bohnet on paid leave. His retirement took effect Dec. 15.

Details of the police investigation are public record. Detectives were told that an old county fire truck chassis had appeared on land Bohnet owns near Cle Elum. The chassis was sold through an auction company in March. The buyer was Bohnet’s next-door neighbor, who apparently gave it to him.

The county code says employees cannot “directly or indirectly” come into ownership of former county property.

Bohnet and his crews had been reminded of those rules not all that long ago.

In 2015, an airport mechanic got in trouble for not following procedures when he sold an engine for scrap. That engine came from the same firetruck as the chassis.

The airport expects to advertise the fire chief position in the near future.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

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