By early morning on Nov. 11, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office was under no illusions that what had felled 76-year-old Francoise Pécqueur on Columbia Lane in Palm Coast hours earlier had been a hit-and-run.
“We gave you a THI that was a hit-and-run,” the dispatcher tells a fellow-dispatcher at the Florida Highway Patrol, using the acronym for a Traffic Homicide Investigation. “We found the driver,” the sheriff’s dispatcher continues, referring to Jamesine Fischer, who’s facing a felony charge for leaving the scene of an accident with a death involved. (The THI was earlier incorrectly reported as a “traumatic head injury.”)
It was just past 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 11. Fischer’s husband—the Flagler County School Board member—had just called a non-emergency line at the sheriff’s office. He spoke with the dispatcher, who identified herself as Candice.
“Yeah,” John Fischer says, in a recording just released by the State Attorney’s office, “how do I go about Candice is that, um, my wife had a accident last—well she thinks she had an accident last evening, and, um, anyhow, how do we go about making report or, does the sheriff’s office come out so that we can have a report?”
As Fischer speaks, the faint sound of something like lively conversation and laughter is audible in the background. It’s not clear if that’s from the dispatcher’s end or the Fischers’ end.
“What do you mean by she thinks she had an accident yesterday?” the dispatcher asks.
“Well,” John Fischer says to his wife, “go ahead, she’s on the phone,” and Jamesine starts talking, apparently from a second receiver.
It had been almost 12 hours since Pécqueur had been struck by Jamesine’s PT Cruiser.
“Um, I was driving down, um, Columbia, how can I explain, anyway,” she starts. “Um, I was driving down and I heard a thud, and I thought I hit a dog, and then when I got out of the car, I pulled over, when I got out of the car there was a lady laying there, um, and I thought she had fallen and the dog was free, and I had hit the dog, and the Evac came, and you know, um—“
“So did you stay on scene there?”
“I did, and nobody came, I mean, Evac was there and they took the woman.”
“Did you tell them that you thought you may have hit her?” the dispatcher asks.
“I didn’t realize it until afterward because, um, I was going to a neighbor’s house down the road and when I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car, that was the first time I noticed that my windshield had shattered.”
The Fischers’ Call to the Sherifff’s Office[media id=267 width=250 height=100]
Fischer, in other words, explaining why she did not mention the collision to medical personnel at the scene, had realized that she may have hit Pecqueur not long after the collision, when she parked her car at the house of the friend she was visiting that evening. She is then asked for her current location, and Fischer gives her home address. She identifies herself as Jamie Fischer.
“OK, all right, we’ll have an officer come out, OK ma’am?”
“OK, thank you,” Fischer responds, with an oddly jovial tone. The conversation ends.
The Fischer call was not made to 911, but to the sheriff’s non-emergency line. It was placed apparently moments after John Fischer had called Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming at his home, seeking advice, according Fleming, who then told him to hang up and call 911.
The recordings shed some additional light on a case increasingly complicated by the prominence of John Fischer in the community, the extent to which the sheriff got involved with Fischer in the 36 to 48 hours immediately after the accident, as a friend, according to Fleming—there were at least six telephone conversations between the two—and Fleming’s refusal to release more precise records of those conversations. What is known is that soon after Fischer spoke with Fleming, he secured Stephen Alexander, the same attorney the sheriff had retained to defend the sheriff’s son in a minor drug case.
Alexander is building a defense around the words of Jamesine Fischer in that call to the sheriff’s office, and to people at the scene: that she thought she’d hit a dog, not a woman. Alexander retained Simpson Consulting and Investigative Services to conduct a private investigation soon after the incident. The four-page investigation was written on Nov. 29. The investigator describes photographing the PT Cruiser at Roger’s Towing in Bunnell on Nov. 15, five days after the incident. “I photographed every blemish, scratch or crack that was visible,” the investigator reported. “Although I photographed the vehicle I found nothing that was attributable to a recent impact. Nonetheless, the entire hood, front bumper, right fender, windshield and right door were photographed a second time.” Oddly, the report makes no mention of the front windshield, visibly cracked at length on the right side from the bottom to the top, in a slight curve as the crack goes up—what Jamesine Fischer herself had reported to the sheriff’s office as her windshield that had “shattered.”
The report draws on interviews with Fischer and several people at the scene of the accident who lived nearby, but not the paramedics at the scene, who were barred from speaking to the private investigator (they spoke to law enforcement). To the private investigator, Jamesine Fischer said that she’d been driving at around 6 p.m. with her headlights on, at an estimated speed of no more than 30 miles per hour, when “she heard something strike her vehicle.” She drove on some 30 or 40 feet then pulled over and got out, and walked back to the area where she’d heard the thud.
“There,” the report states,” she observed a body lying adjacent to the culvert of the driveway. She states she called out words to the effect are you alright? Getting no response she next kneeled down and shook the female lying on the ground. She still did not receive any response. She said she could see what she believed to be blood coming from the right side of the subject’s mouth. She said she turned the subject’s head to the right in an effort to preclude any potential breathing problems.” She then “hollered ‘this lady has fallen and is hurt, someone call 911,’” the report states, and that “in the commotion” she heard someone call 911.
The report is at odds with Jamesine Fischer’s arrest report filed by the Florida Highway Patrol, which, after stating that “Mrs. Fischer attempted to mislead medical personnel and bystanders at the scene as to the events of the crash by leading them to believe that there had been no collision but that Mrs. Pecqueur had fallen,” described the scene this way: “The first witness to see Mrs. Fischer at the scene was Jules Proctor, who lived near the location of the incident. Mr. Proctor was driving in the area when he observed a small white dog standing in the road and he noticed that the dog appeared to be frightened. The dog was on a leash that had a handle on it. He stopped his vehicle and got out. He then observed a lady (Mrs. Fischer) standing in the shadows. He yelled over to Mrs. Fischer, asking her if everything was alright. In response, he heard some mumbling and it didn’t sound right to him. He grabbed the dog’s leash and moved closer to where Mrs. Fischer was standing. At that point, he observed an older lady (Mrs. Pecqueur) laying on the ground on her back, bleeding. Mr. Proctor then asked Mrs. Fischer if she had called 911 and she mumbled no and so he called 911.” The FHP report also notes that once FHP investigators saw the PT Cruiser, they noticed “damage consistent with a vehicle striking a person.”
Police reports in charging affidavits are written with prosecution in mind: the details have to support a case for prosecution. Private investigators’ reports on behalf of defense attorneys are written with the defense in mind: they would more likely focus on exculpatory evidence. The two sides then make their case in court.
The private investigator report goes on to describe the Fischers’ call to the sheriff’s office, saying that at approximately 4:30 or 5 a.m. the morning of Nov. 11, John Fischer called the sheriff’s office—the report does not specify that it was the non-emergency line—“and advised them that his wife may have been involved in an accident; however; she was not sure.” The private investigator’s report notes that John Fischer “provided a description of her vehicle and an approximate location the accident may have occurred,” though there is no record of Fischer himself providing that information in the calls released by the State Attorney’s office.
The private investigator’s report narrates the results of interviews with three additional witnesses at the scene, but not Proctor. One witness, Helen Westenberg, whose house was near the collision scene, said she saw Fischer ask Pecqueur whether she was alright, kneel down, touch her, then rise up again and say that Pecqueur had fallen and needed help. Westenberg later describes the presence of just four persons at the scene, other than Pecqueur—herself, the 911 caller, and a mother and from across the street.
The mother and daughter, Kathrine Kasprzak and Kathrine Skora, “said Jamesine Fischer repeatedly stated her name was Irene,” according to the private investigator’s report. :The two were adamant regarding that fact.” The investigator adds his opinion: “However, I do not think it would be a great leap, especially under the circumstances, to confuse Jamesine with Irene.” Jamesine Fischer also goes by “Jamie,” as she did during the call to the sheriff’s office.
At no point in any of the reports–the FHP’s, the private investigator’s–or the call to the sheriff’s office is the question raised about Jamesine Fischer’s central explanation for her acts: she thought she hit a dog, and that Pecqueur had, coincidentally, fallen, but the dog, a tiny poodle that could easily be squashed by a boot, let alone a car tire, was witnessed by several people at the scene, healthy and unhurt, if scared. The vehicle could not have hit the dog and left it unscathed.