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Florida Fire Chief Arrested For Local Business Owner’s Murder

Baker Fire District Chief Brian Easterling has been charged with shooting and killing a local businessman who police say Easterling believed owed him money.

By Dorian Geiger
This image provided by the Okaloosa County Dept. of Corrections shows Brian Easterling

A Florida volunteer fire chief is accused of shooting and killing a business owner over the weekend, and police say they were in a dispute over a past business dealing.

Brian Keith Easterling, 52, has been jailed on premeditated homicide charges after allegedly gunning down a shop owner in Pensacola on Sunday over what the man believed was a $30,000 debt, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

Easterling, who was arrested without incident at his residence in neighboring Okaloosa County, is now awaiting extradition to face charges. 

Easterling, a volunteer fire chief for Baker Fire District, was suspended Monday pending trial, fire officials confirmed to Oxygen.com.

“I think the loss of life is shocking, especially in the line of work that we’re in,” Mark McKenzie, the assistant chief for Baker Fire District, said. (McKenzie has since been appointed acting fire chief.)

Deputies were dispatched to a business in the 3900 block of Creighton Road in Pensacola on June 5, following reports of a shooting fatality. Upon arrival, law enforcement found a deceased 63-year-old victim, later identified as the proprietor. 

Detectives now suspect the shooting unfolded over a disagreement involving money between the two men.

“This was over a dispute about who owed who money regarding a previous business dealing,” Escambia County Sheriff Sheriff Chip W. Simmons told Oxygen.com on Tuesday. 

After examining surveillance recordings which allegedly captured the incident, authorities say they are confident that the murder was premeditated. 

“He lured him in with evil on his mind,” Simmons added.

The two men, who officials described as acquaintances, appeared to be having an “ordinary conversation prior to Easterling opening fire," citing the footage.

“At one point, the victim turned his back to walk away and the killer pulled out a gun from his pants pocket and then he fired a single shot to the back of his head,” Simmons added. “That’s about as cold blooded as it gets.”

Investigators suspect the business owner died instantly.

Easterling allegedly then fled the scene in the victim’s stolen truck. 

“[Easterling] clearly knew what he wanted to do,” Simmons said. “It looked like he planned it. He calmly put a tarp over the body and took the keys from his pants pocket and also stole his truck and his trailer.” 

The alleged disputed debt totaled roughly $30,000, according to the Escambia County Sheriff.

The 63-year-old victim was known locally for restoring vintage and classic automobiles. 

“Everyone knew him around here,” Simmons said. “This has been a pretty big shock to the community that first of all he was killed and the nature he was killed by an acquaintance, just a meaningless homicide. It rocked our community.” 

No additional information was released by law enforcement. If convicted, Easterling could face the death penalty or life in prison. 

Easterling is being held without bail at an Okaloosa County detention facility. It’s unclear when he’ll be transferred to Escambia County. No attorney information was immediately available for the 52-year-old on Tuesday, but he appears to have been appointed a public defender and is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment on July 1, court filings show.

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