SF firefighter sues for defamation in Asiana crash
Firefighter Elyse Duckett accused the department of "falsely" identifying her to the media as being responsible for killing a 16-year-old survivor
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — More fallout from last year's deadly Asiana Airlines crash — this time a legal claim filed by a San Francisco firefighter saying the Fire Department defamed her by "falsely" identifying her to the media as being responsible for killing a 16-year-old survivor.
The claim, filed with the city on behalf of Elyse Duckett, a 25-year department veteran, accused the department of discriminating against her because she is African American and lesbian. Department supervisors' goal, she said, was "to protect the firefighter who was actually responsible for the death of Ye Meng Yuan."
Two other Chinese schoolgirls were fatally injured when the Asiana Boeing 777 crashed short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport on July 6 and burst into flames. A coroner's autopsy found that Ye was alive when she was run over on the ground near the plane's left wing.
Footage from another rig's dashboard camera and a battalion chief's helmet camera showed that Duckett's rig was the second one to roll over Ye, and that by the time Duckett hit her, she was obscured by flame-retardant foam.
Duckett's claim says Ye may have been killed by the first rig, known as Rescue 10 and driven by another firefighter, Jimmy Yee. But when Duckett showed up for a meeting with Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and other brass on July 22, the claim says, she was told "that she needed to admit to the incident and take responsibility" for the girl's death.
Duckett told her bosses that "there was a video showing that Rescue 10 was the vehicle that had hit and killed" the girl. "Notwithstanding, they continued to insist that Elyse Duckett was responsible for her death."
Later that day, according to her attorney, Eduardo Roy, Duckett received repeated phone calls from KGO TV reporter Dan Noyes wanting to talk to her about the crash.
Roy said Duckett "believes that her identity, contact information and involvement were disclosed to Dan Noyes by one or more individuals" in the Fire Department.
Three days later, the station ran a story "falsely identifying" Duckett as the driver responsible for killing Ye, according to the claim. Her name promptly was picked up by other media around the world, the claim says.
Duckett has been in counseling since August as a result of the incident, Roy said, adding that she is back at work.
Roy said fire officials' actions amounted to "a cover-up" and said Duckett wants "those people held accountable who know exactly what happened and when it happened."
Last week, the claim adds - after Duckett filed her initial legal claim with the city - she was "subjected to threats and interrogation over the phone" by Hayes-White and the Fire Department's deputy chief of operations, Mark Gonzales. Roy called that a further violation of her rights as a firefighter "as well as unlawful retaliation" for filing the claim.
Such claims, if rejected by the city, typically are precursors to a lawsuit. Duckett seeks at least $300,000 in damages.
The city attorney's office declined to comment on the claim Monday.
Fire Department officials learned of the claim Monday and had no comment on it, spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said. "The chief and department as a whole remain very supportive of all the first responders who responded to the Asiana incident and are proud of their commendable efforts," she said.
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