Judge: Kansas City FF made ‘blatantly false’ claims to police about fatal apparatus crash
Dominic Biscari was driving Kansas City Fire Pumper 19, which collided with an SUV, hit a pedestrian and crashed into a commercial building, killing 3
By Bill Lukitsch
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City firefighter made “blatantly false statements” to police investigators after he drove a fire engine through a red light in Westport and crashed into several vehicles and a building, killing three people, a retired judge overseeing his resulting civil proceedings has found.
Dominic Biscari, of KCFD, told Kansas City police investigating the crash that he slowed down as he approached the high-traffic intersection, evaluated for other drivers and slammed on his brakes when he saw an SUV pull in front of him.
But Judge Miles Sweeney found those things were all untrue and easily disproved through eyewitness accounts, traffic camera footage and other physical evidence compiled by investigators, according to court documents filed Friday after the conclusion of arbitration on Oct. 14.
The civil case is centered on a crash involving Kansas City Fire Pumper 19 on Dec. 15. On the night of the crash, the fire engine driven by Biscari was traveling north on Broadway Boulevard toward a reported structure fire when it collided with an SUV driven by Jennifer San Nicolas at Westport Road.
San Nicolas and front-seat passenger Michael Elwood were pushed through the intersection and up Broadway as the fire engine continued on into a series of cars parked along the street. Tammi Knight, a pedestrian who was about to enter a vehicle, was struck as the fire engine crashed into her and through the facade of a commercial building that once housed a popular bar.
The SUV carrying San Nicolas and Elwood was pushed onto the sidewalk. After the fire engine busted through a brick wall, the building’s upper floor collapsed, trapping Knight underneath a pile of rubble for 10 hours. All three were declared dead at the scene.
The crash happened about one minute after the fire crew was advised by dispatchers to stand down.
Earlier this month, Sweeney was assigned to oversee arbitration proceedings in the matter of wrongful death claims brought against Biscari specifically. Biscari, who has a criminal defense lawyer but was not provided one by the city in the civil suit filed against him, was not present for an evidence hearing held in that process on Oct. 7.
In his summary, Sweeney found that loved ones of the victims — and the owner of the destroyed building — deserved to be paid a collective $32 million by Biscari in compensation. That arbitration award, which requires final approval by a Jackson County judge to take effect, was part of an unopposed motion for a proposed judgment in favor of the plaintiffs filed in court on Friday.
Any personal liabilities Biscari may incur as a result would not be for KCFD to pay.
Mother of woman killed in Mo. apparatus crash files wrongful death suit
Judy Holland, mother of Tami Knight, is suing the Kansas City Fire Department, the employee whom she says drove the truck, and the city
The families have also filed suit against Kansas City, and more specifically the Kansas City Fire Department. Those claims are still pending in Jackson County Circuit Court, and Biscari was dismissed from that civil case on Oct. 7 as part of his agreement to handle the civil claims through arbitration.
Attorneys for the families allege the city and the fire department were negligent in allowing Biscari to operate a 40,000-pound fire engine on the night of the crash. Among the evidence they have cited is a warning one employee shared with fire officials a little less than three months before the deadly crash unfolded.
The employee told supervisors that Biscari accelerated to 70 mph on Broadway when it wasn’t necessary while they were transporting a critically ill patient, and vowed she would never ride with him “ever again.”
That warning, reported by The Star in August, was also a point raised by Sweeney in considering an award for the bereaved families, according to court documents. Sweeney said the department was “on notice of (Biscari’s) dangerous and reckless driving of KCFD vehicles,” referencing the email sent to KCFD supervisors with the subject line: “Horrendous Driving.”
Sweeney concluded that Biscari clearly violated fire department policies aimed at public safety as he traveled approximately 15 miles per hour above the posted speed limit leading up to the fatal crash. His findings were based in part on those of expert witness Randy Villines, a fire instructor in central Missouri hired by the plaintiffs, who testified that Biscari failed to keep a careful lookout and traveled at a speed excessive for the conditions that night.
Meanwhile, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office was presented with findings of a Kansas City police investigation of the crash in February. Prosecutors continue to evaluate whether they will pursue criminal charges against Biscari.