'Back where I need to be': Burned Baxter Springs police officer returns to work

Baxter Springs police Officer Jimmy Hamilton sits at the police department's dispatch desk on Friday. Hamilton was recently medically cleared to return to light duty and his official first day back was on Monday. Courtesy photo

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — Baxter Springs police Officer Jimmy Hamilton, who was seriously burned while responding to a call last fall, has been medically cleared to return to light duty.

Nearly four months after the incident, Hamilton returned to work last week and has been assigned to dispatch services.

“(Jan. 8) was my first day back, and it’s been good,” Hamilton said on Friday. “I’ve never dispatched before, so I’m learning that whole process. I’m happy to be back. I’ve been looking forward to coming back for quite a while, and the doctors finally released me to light duty. It kind of feels like I’m getting back where I need to be.”

Hamilton was one of three Baxter Springs officers injured while responding to a disturbance call on Sept. 30 in the 1000 block of West 11th Street. The police said they found Harvey Raymond Ortberg, 49, of Baxter Springs, at the scene after he allegedly entered the home of Sharon Horn, assaulted her, doused her with gasoline and lit a fire.

Horn later died of her injuries. Hamilton and officers Darryl Nadeau and Justin Butler were all injured; Hamilton suffered burns to about 30 percent of his body and has been receiving treatment from a burn unit in Springfield, Missouri.

“I’m healing up really well,” Hamilton said. “My next appointment is in three months, and if all is going well and continues at this same pace, they said they’ll probably release me to full duty then.”

After receiving several skin graft surgeries, Hamilton said, he is healing quicker than what his doctors had anticipated. He said medical staff had originally predicted that he would have an 18-month recovery time.

“I’m almost a year ahead of schedule,” Hamilton said. “I’m just doing therapy. All of the (skin) grafts are doing real good, and they all took — no more surgery.”

'A morale booster'

Chief Bill Adams said Hamilton is back to his old self and cracking jokes.

“He is definitely a morale booster,” Adams said Friday. “I’ve been laughing for the last half-hour, but he tends to have that effect on everyone he comes in contact with.”

Since last fall, communities across the country have reached out to support Hamilton and his family. Quilts for Cops, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon, donated three handmade quilts. According to Hamilton, fundraisers and donations totaled approximately $19,000, which have helped reduce his family’s financial burden.

“My wife was able to take off work,” Hamilton said. “She just went back to work the same week I did. She didn’t have vacation or anything, so (donations) basically helped take care of her salary for those three months or so. We were also able to pay off some bills, and we had a few appliances that needed to be replaced, and we were able to replace those. It’s been a real blessing to receive outstanding support from the communities.

“I would like to say thanks to all of the area law enforcement agencies that reached out and gave encouragement, and some of them gave donations, like Joplin,” he said. “It’s just been a blessing to me and my wife, Trina, through this whole process to have such good support from our community and the surrounding communities.”

Preliminary hearing set

Ortberg, the suspect, was charged on Oct. 13 with premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of attempted capital murder, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, aggravated battery, reckless bodily harm with a weapon and two counts of aggravated child endangerment. If convicted, Ortberg faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years.

He is currently being held in the Cherokee County Jail on $1 million bond. He also has requested an attorney, and one has been appointed to him, said Cherokee County Attorney Jake Conard. Ortberg’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, Conard said.

The criminal investigation is being conducted by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department and the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office.

Award recipient

Sgt. Darryl Nadeau, of the Baxter Springs Police Department, was recently honored with a Policeman of the Year Award by the Baxter Springs American Legion Post 206.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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