An auto detailing company owned by the brother of Gloucester County Fire Marshal Shawn Layton confirmed that they had done some decorative work on the official county vehicle where a first responder dog, K9 Ember, died ten days ago, but denied their involvement in any upfitting or repairs over the last two years, their attorney told the New Jersey Globe.
“Except for the installation of an identification vinyl decal/wrap in July 2020, my client, Car Effex, never performed any work or services of any kind, on the Fire Marshal’s 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe K9 vehicle wherein the dogs tragically died,” said their attorney, Brian J. Duffield.
Duffield’s statement is the first acknowledgement from the Layton family that the county’s arson dog, a three-year-old red fox Golden Retriever, died in the county vehicle used by Shawn Layton, who is also a township committeeman in Mantua. Layton’s personal dog also perished in the vehicle.
But Duffield said he has no inside knowledge of the circumstances of K9 Ember’s death and would not confirm that Car Effex owner Michael Layton, Shawn’s brother, discussed the incident with him.
“I am basing this on common knowledge. I’m not confirming the fact. I’m going by what everyone else has said,” Duffield stated. “Everybody knows. It’s public information. It’s on Facebook. I assume that’s how he found out.”
The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s office is investigating the circumstances of K9 Ember’s death. The arson investigation dog was assigned to the fire marshal, who had responsibility for the canine’s care.
Dennis P. McNulty, the director of the Gloucester County Office of Emergency Management, had instructed county employees, including Layton, to “refrain from communicating any information” at the request of the prosecutor’s office.
According to Duffield, nobody from Car Effex has been interviewed by the prosecutor’s office, which was notified of K9 Ember’s death on Monday, August 15.
Asked if any Car Effex employee had access to Shawn Layton’s vehicle in the days between the dog’s death and the prosecutor’s office taking control of the Tahoe on Monday evening, Duffield said he didn’t believe that was the case.
“I doubt it,” he said. “Not to my knowledge.”
“An older K9 (vehicle) may have been upfitted, but not this one,” Duffield explained.
Still, Car Effex appears to be a politically connected company that consistently appears on the Board of Commissioners monthly bill list for work on county vehicles for multiple departments, including the county Board of Elections. The bill list approved by the commissioners last week — during the same meeting where the death of K9 Ember was discussed – include invoices totaling $4,059 for Car Effex.
Car Effex has a contract with Gloucester County and performs services on several vehicles, Duffield said. Photos on Car Effex’s social media account show they have done work for the highway department, the animal shelter, on county transportation buses, and on an all-terrain vehicle for the sheriff’s department.
Personal ties between County Administrator Chad Bruner, who is the Gloucester County Democratic Chairman, and the Layton family are clear.
Duffield is also involved in local politics; he serves as a solicitor and prosecutor for several municipalities, his website says, and has made over $133,000 in political contributions personally and from his firm to candidates from both parties, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Another family member, Victoria Layton, contacted the New Jersey Globe on Friday to dispute portions of the New Jersey Globe report on the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s probe.
“Your information is incorrect, especially about my husband’s car shop ever even touching Shawn’s K-9 vehicle,” she said.
But her husband’s attorney, Duffield, directly contradicted that statement in an email stating that Car Effex installed identification vinyl decal and auto wrap on a county-owned vehicle operated by the owner’s brother.
In a telephone interview, Duffield confirmed that Car Effex did decorate work on Shawn Layton’s county-owned vehicle in 2020.
“How dare you publish ‘facts’ about an open prosecutors investigation,” Victoria Layton stated. “The only person you should get your information from is the prosecutor’s office when they close the investigation.”
Not mentioning the death of the dog, she pledged to pursue “pain and suffering.”
“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, who is already suing others,” Layton said. “I will fight this to the very end.”
Editor’s note: the New Jersey Globe has corrected an earlier report to clarify that the services were not related to anything more than decaling and wrapping, and that the invoice reflected the fire marshal’s prior county vehicle. But we have added new information, based on statements by Car Effex’s attorney, that the company did provide some services on the county-owned vehicle operated by the fire marshal, who is the brother of the Car Effex owner. There is no indication that Car Effex had any role or responsibility in the incident that led to the death of K9 Ember.