Bartholomew Co. auditor, former sheriff believed dead in house fire

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Jeremy Brilliant/Eyewitness News

Bartholomew County - An early morning house fire in Bartholomew County claimed the lives of a current and former county official. Investigators have preliminarily identified the victims as Nancy McKinney, the Bartholomew County auditor, and her husband Jimmie, a former sheriff.

The fire was reported just before 3:00 am at the couple's home in Newbern in eastern Bartholomew County.

As of 4:00 pm, investigators were still on the scene. The fire was very intense, destroying much of the home. Authorities are still searching for a specific cause, but they believe it was an accident.

Hours after the fire started, smoke still billowed out of the log home in rural Bartholomew County.Photos taken within minutes of the blaze being reported show the intense flames that took eight fire departments more than an hour to get under control.

"It's a tragic loss for everyone in this community," said Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett.

Inside the home, firefighters discovered the bodies of Bartholomew County Auditor Nancy McKinney and her husband Jimmie, a three-term sheriff in the 1970s and 80s. At the sheriff's department the flags were lowered to half staff.

Sheriff Gorbett said he knew "both of them real well, in fact I worked for the sheriff. He was a three-term sheriff and I worked for him all three times."

"It's been quite a shock to the whole office this morning," said Lorene Turner, deputy auditor.

A letter on the door at the Bartholomew County Auditor's office explained the situation. Inside, work went on but the mood was somber.

"She was more than a boss because we were friends," said Turner.

Lorene Turner worked with Nancy for more than two decades. She sees her death as a personal loss and one for the entire county.

"When it came into figures Nancy was very sharp. I mean, she knew what was going on and the county will have lost someone that was pretty up on what was going on as far as money and figures. So I see it as a loss," Turner said.

Rep. Mike Pence issued the following statement:

"Jimmie and Nancy McKinney were two of Bartholomew County's finest public servants. Growing up in Columbus, I was always inspired by Sheriff McKinney's honest and courageous service to the community and I have admired Nancy McKinney's professionalism as Bartholomew County Auditor. Our entire family's prayers go out to the family and friends of these two Columbus leaders during this difficult time."

The scene of the fire is technically being treated as a crime scene but investigators say all indications are this was an accident. Police say the couple recently had problems with a wood burning stove and used several space heaters to warm the home.

"We have nothing that's been given to us at this point or that we've been able to ascertain that leads us to believe this is anything but an accident," said Rick Batza, State Fire Marshal's office.