Ex-paramedic pleads not guilty in theft of narcotics from fire station

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The former Clallam County Fire District No. 3 employee accused of stealing narcotics from the district’s Sequim fire station has pleaded not guilty to theft and burglary charges.

Paul M. Rynearson, 40, entered the plea Friday in Clallam County Superior Court to one count each of second-degree burglary and third-degree theft, and is set to appear in court
Jan. 14.

Sequim police say Rynearson, a 14-year firefighter/paramedic with the fire district, stole painkillers from the Sequim fire station two separate times in mid-September and early October.

Rynearson resigned via letter Oct. 15 after he was placed on administrative leave Oct. 3 for reasons unrelated to the missing drugs, according to Fire District No. 3 Chief Steve Vogel.

Rynearson, who declined to comment on the proceedings Friday, told police during the investigation that he had intended to use the painkillers himself.

Jesse Espinoza, the county deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the case, recommended in the Friday hearing that Rynearson remain out of jail in part because he has no criminal history.

“There’s no indication that he would be a flight risk,” Espinoza said.

As part of his conditions of release, however, Rynearson must not possess alcohol and stay out of businesses where it is “the chief item of sale,” Espinoza said.

“To my knowledge, this is a fairly serious addiction issue,” he said.

Vogel said Friday he had no idea Rynearson suffered from any kind of addiction before he allegedly stole the drugs.

“It’s a total surprise,” Vogel said.

“No one knew anything about it.”

District staff are concerned about Rynearson, Vogel said, and want to see him get help for his addiction.

“[Our staff] care for him,” Vogel said.

“They don’t want to see him get hurt, but yet, the event has hurt the department as far as morale goes.”

Vogel has estimated the missing medication to be worth likely between $10 and $15.

According to a Sequim police report, Rynearson told Detective Sgt. Sean Madison he took a small plastic box containing painkillers from the fire station’s narcotics locker on or around Sept. 19.

These drugs were found to be missing Sept. 25 during a routine audit of stored medications, Vogel confirmed, and reported missing to him Oct. 1 after Vogel had returned to work from a family function.

Vogel said he then immediately told his staff to “tear the place apart” to find the drugs and to get in contact with police.

The district also had contracted with Janice Corbin, a human resources consultant with whom the district has worked before, to investigate the missing narcotics, Vogel said.

Corbin is still completing her investigative report after interviewing multiple district employees and reviewing district policies and procedures, Vogel explained.

Corbin could not be reached for comment Friday.

More drugs were reported missing Oct. 6.

Madison’s arrest report gave the following account of that incident:

Rynearson told Madison he was on his way to seek addiction treatment late Oct. 5 or early Oct. 6 when he went instead to the fire station to steal morphine.

Rynearson was not allowed to be there after he was placed on administrative leave and was confronted by a former colleague, who asked him to leave.

Rynearson left but returned about two hours later and accessed two syringes of morphine from an ambulance parked in the station early that morning.

He said he injected one into himself after accidentally spraying out another and replaced the morphine with saline to hide his theft.

Rynearson told Madison he warned a former colleague with a text message so a patient would not be accidentally injected with saline.

_________

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 07. 2013 7:12PM
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