Sheriff’s Department investigating alleged hit-and-run involving L.A. assistant fire chief
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a hit-and-run collision in which an assistant chief for the Los Angeles Fire Department allegedly crashed into a parked car, sending it 160 feet forward, and fled to his Santa Clarita home.
After the collision Sunday night, Ellsworth Fortman did not respond to deputies’ repeated commands to speak with him, even as they heard him talking on the phone in his backyard and saw him walking up the staircase in his home, according to interviews with the owner of the parked car, her aunt and Sheriff’s Sgt. David Shoemaker of the Santa Clarita station.
The man made “zero attempt” to respond, Shoemaker said.
The sergeant did not name Fortman or confirm that he was the driver. But Kimberly Ward, the aunt, provided The Times with a copy of a document a deputy gave her with the report number, which listed Fortman as the registered owner of the Dodge Ram involved in the crash and included his insurance information.
Ward and her niece said Fortman also showed up at their home the following morning to offer his insurance information, saying he had fallen ill the night before with vomiting and diarrhea.
When reached by phone, Fortman said he had been advised by “everybody” not to comment on the incident and then hung up on a reporter. He did not respond to a subsequent text asking for the name of his attorney. According to his LinkedIn profile, Fortman has worked for the Fire Department for more than 30 years and currently serves as assistant chief of the Emergency Medical Services Bureau.
In a statement, a spokeswoman said the department is “aware of an alleged off-duty incident and our Professional Standards Division is cooperating with law enforcement. Chief Fortman remains on duty while the investigation is conducted.”
The incident marks the second high-profile Fire Department official to come under investigation in recent months. Peter Sanders, a civilian employee and chief spokesman for the agency, was accused in June of using a city vehicle to stop and threaten an Uber driver who got into a shouting match with Sanders’ wife in a parking lot.
The collision involving Fortman occurred about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Shoemaker said. Shortly after, Ward said she heard a knock at her door.
A sheriff’s deputy was in front of her home, asking if she owned a gray or blue four-door Toyota sedan. She said it belonged to her niece.
The deputy told her the sedan was totaled in a hit-and-run collision, Ward said.
She and her niece walked outside, where they saw that the collision’s impact had sent the sedan across the street and up into a driveway, where it collided into a third car. The crash also knocked over a lamppost, which was lying in the street among debris.
Ward’s niece went to pack up belongings she’d left in the car while Ward followed a tow truck up to Fortman’s home.
She said she pounded on his door with a flashlight for about a minute. No answer. Sheriff’s deputies eventually advised her to stop, she said.
Shoemaker confirmed that a woman at the scene told deputies that the driver had called her and said he had been involved in an accident. She said the man told her that he hadn’t been drinking, but went home, called his lawyer and then started drinking, Shoemaker said.
When deputies were yelling out to get the man’s attention, he made “zero attempt” to respond, Shoemaker said.
Deputies did not try to obtain a warrant to enter the home, because the hit-and-run was a misdemeanor offense and no one was injured. Warrants for misdemeanor cases, he said, also generally aren’t served after 10 p.m. unless there’s a significant reason for night service. This alleged offense didn’t rise to that level, he said.
The station has yet to hear from the driver, he said.
“He has never contacted us to try and figure out where his truck is or give us any explanations,” Shoemaker said.
The case, he said, has been presented to the district attorney’s office for review. The review is ongoing, the D.A.'s office said Wednesday afternoon.
The morning after the collision, Ward said, Fortman showed up at her home with his insurance information, saying he may have hit her car.
He was with two women who identified themselves as his sister and his girlfriend, Ward said. The girlfriend told Ward she had found Fortman unconscious in the bathtub the night before, Ward said.
“I said, ‘That’s what happens when you drink and drive,’” Ward recalled telling him. “He said, ‘Oh, ma’am, I wasn’t drinking.’”
Ward said the conversation lasted about 10 minutes, until she told them to leave.
“Here’s a man, he’s making $450,000 a year, he’s a moral compass. There are a lot of young men and women in the LAFD that look up to him,” Ward said. “I want him to be held accountable 100%.”
According to Transparent California, an online database of public employees’ pay information, Fortman earned more than $450,000 in total pay and benefits in 2018, the most recent year for which his salary information is available. That includes base pay of $175,000 plus $160,000 in overtime pay and about $100,000 in benefits.
Times staff writers Paul Pringle and Leila Miller contributed to this report.
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