published Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Bledsoe County ambulance director target of probe

Longtime Bledsoe County Emergency Medical Service Director Larry Billingsley is at the center of a state, federal and local investigation launched Friday in connection with "mishandled" pharmaceutical supplies for the county's ambulances, authorities said.

Billingsley has not been charged, but Bledsoe County, Tenn., investigators and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation narcotics agents conducted interviews all day Tuesday, Sheriff's Department Investigator Ricky Seals said.

The probe started in Bledsoe on Friday after U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents working with Erlanger Health System officials contacted the sheriff's department.

DEA agents sent Bledsoe word "about some medication mishandling and Mr. Billingsley's name was mentioned as the person who would have been involved," said Seals, who added that District Attorney Mike Taylor was notified immediately.

Taylor said Tuesday that he called on the TBI's narcotics unit to help Bledsoe with its part of the investigation.

"Right now, we're in the first stages of investigation," Seals said.

Billingsley could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A woman who answered Billingsley's cellphone said he had an attorney representing him but would not give the attorney's name. The woman would not comment further.

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said Tuesday that Billingsley resigned, citing "health reasons" as cause for his departure.

Former Bledsoe EMS employee Kendell Smith, who most recently worked for Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tenn., has been appointed to the EMS director's post, Collier said.

Smith will serve for the next 90 days, "and we'll see how it goes from there," Collier said.

Collier said the ambulance service will continue operating as usual and he credited Billlingsley with doing a "good job" establishing the ambulance service as it exists today.

Collier said he was "shocked" to learn of the investigation.

Billingsley has been with Bledsoe EMS for more than 22 years, beginning in April 1990, according to archives of the Bledsonian Banner newspaper in Pikeville. He was the county's first paramedic and became director in 1997. Records show Billingsley also serves on the board of the Tennessee Ambulance Service Association.

If the investigation into Billingsley's activities results in charges, it will mark the third criminal case involving public officials in Bledsoe County and the county seat of Pikeville, Tenn., in the past six months.

In August, former Pikeville Mayor Greg Johnson was jailed on felony theft and official misconduct charges in connection with allegations he defrauded taxpayers out of more than $250,000 in public funds.

In November, Bledsoe County Sheriff Jimmy Morris was arrested along with another man on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges stemming from a fight at a Huddle House in nearby Sequatchie County. Both those cases still are pending in court, officials said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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