Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Saturday, June 8, 2013
PUNTA GORDA — For the first time in more than 18 years, the Punta Gorda Police Department has a new crime scene investigator.
Ashley Handley, 22, of Punta Gorda, is young, she’s fun, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. (Her predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired March 1.)
‘Ashley has a fresh , new, energetic approach and the initiative and motivation to light up a room,’ said Punta Gorda Police Chief Albert ‘Butch’ Arenal. ‘ Crime scene investigation is one of the areas in the department we have been wanting to take in a new direction, and she is just the person to do it.’
While the job sometimes can require assessing gruesome scenes and blood-soaked evidence, Handley seems like the perfect person to stomach it. She has been an avid hunter since she was 10.
‘I’m daddy’s little boy,’ she joked.
Handley adores all things outdoors. As an only child, it was common for Handley to accompany her father on hunting and fishing trips. But don’t think it was dad who did all the dirty work.
‘I can gut and field dress a hog in 15 minutes,’ Handley said. ‘I am very proud of that.’
While her dad taught her the basics of hunting, working as a butcher at Publix helped her become an expert at filleting fish. However it was her experience taking classes at Edison State College Charlotte Campus in Punta Gorda that got her interested in law enforcement. Also, her mother Allison Handley is a clerk with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
Growing up, Handley always enjoyed watching John Walsh host ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and sitting through the show ‘To Catch a Predator.’ That intrigue inspired her to take some electives in criminology and law while pursuing a nursing degree.
‘I found myself doing better and putting more time into my electives,’ she said. ‘I was grasping all the legal concepts and having so much fun that I decided to change my major.’
After getting her associate degree, Handley applied for the CSI position on her 22nd birthday. On April Fool’s Day, she received the job offer. She started April 22, the anniversary of her grandmother’s death.
‘I thought it was a good omen,’ Handley said. ‘It seemed like she was sending me a sign.’
Handley still was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Edison State when she applied for the PGPD position.
‘Initially, we thought she was kind of young for the position,’ Arenal said. ‘But by the time the interview was over, she had simply bowled us over with her talents.’
Handley isn’t the type to let skepticism hinder her drive. She maintained a place on the dean’s list while attending Charlotte High School and Edison, and was part of the National Honor Society while studying at Florida Gulf Coast University.
‘She is a very serious girl,’ Jack Handley, Ashley’s father, said. ‘I never worry about her. She knows her surroundings everywhere she goes, a trait I taught her because she was an only child and not one to spare.’
Recently, her skill set was put to the test when she processed the entire crime scene at St. Andrew’s South Golf Club after six people vandalized the course. Ashley’s smile was even brighter when she was covered in black fingerprinting dust after lifting readable prints off the golf carts that were taken.
All the suspects were arrested and charged with burglary, grand theft and criminal mischief after authorities said they took the carts and destroyed portions of the 18th fairway and green, the irrigation system and the fiberglass carts.
‘It was my first big, extensive investigation,’ Ashley said. ‘It was great.’
Ashley has only three more classes until she graduates with her bachelor’s degree, then she plans to become the sixth certified female police officer on the PGPD force.
‘I’m excited to be the new face of crime scene investigation,’ she said.