Alachua K-9 handler not under disciplinary investigation after dog dies in hot car

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. — Alachua County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Robbie died of heat exhaustion after his partner, Deputy Tommy Wilcox, left him in the back seat of his patrol car on Friday.

Wilcox is the lead K-9 trainer for the sheriff’s office and has been a K-9 handler there for 13 years.

Robbie was the primary K-9 for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.

Wilcox was placed on administrative leave on Monday.

“He requested personal administrative leave to deal with the situation for him and his family,” said Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Brandon Kutner.

Photos: Alachua K-9 officer dies after being left in hot patrol car

Wilcox declined to comment on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is like a member of his own family. He’s heartbroken about it. The family is heartbroken about it,” said Kutner.

Wilcox and Robbie assisted the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office on Friday morning with a barricaded suspect who was wanted in connection with a homicide investigation in Leesburg.

The suspect was arrested, but Kutner did not know whether Robbie was deployed in that arrest.

Wilcox and Robbie returned home Friday afternoon. Wilcox put away his gear and left to join his family at another location.

Kutner said Wilcox could not remember later if he had removed Robbie from his patrol car. He returned home and found Robbie unresponsive in the back seat.

Kutner did not know how long Wilcox had left Robbie in the patrol car.

Robbie was Wilcox’s fourth K-9. Wilcox and Robbie had been partners for six years, and Robbie was 6 years old.

The sheriff’s office is investigating what happened, but Kutner said Wilcox is not under disciplinary investigation.

“At this point, I want to make it very clear that he is not the subject of any investigation,” said Kutner.

Kutner said none of the other three K-9s assigned to Wilcox have died under suspicious circumstances.

The sheriff’s office spokesman says the agency is investigating Robbie’s death the same way it would investigate a civilian dog’s death in a hot car.

Each of the sheriff’s office’s K-9 unit patrol cars are equipped with safeguards to cool the dog down and alert his partner when it gets too hot inside.

When the inside of the vehicle reaches dangerous levels, the window automatically rolls down, a fan switches on and the horn starts going off.

“The horn will continue to make that alert until the handler returns and attends to the dog,” said Kutner.

But it only works if the car is running.

Kutner said investigators believe the car was off when Wilcox forgot Robbie inside.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has eight other K-9 teams.

Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne is working to learn more information. Follow her on Twitter @JennaANjax for the latest developments.

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