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SF to settle with firefighter blamed for running over girl in Asiana crash

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A screengrab from new video that shows the deadly Asiana Airlines crash at SFO on July 6, 2013. (Courtesy YouTube)

San Francisco has reached a $250,000 tentative settlement in a lawsuit alleging a firefighter was wrongly blamed for the death of a teenage passenger in the Asiana Airlines crash.

The lawsuit claimed firefighter Elyse Duckett became a “sacrificial lamb” for the San Francisco Fire Department after 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan died as first responders scrambled to rescue passengers and douse flames July 6, 2013.

Asiana Flight 214 clipped the seawall at San Francisco International Airport and burst into flames on the runway. The impact ejected Ye from the Boeing 777.

Two fire rigs later struck the teenager, according the lawsuit. Ye was covered in fire-fighting foam when Duckett drove the second rig over her. Firefighter Jimmy Yee drove the first rescue vehicle. Yet, the lawsuit alleged a member of the SFFD only leaked Duckett’s name to the press as the firefighter who ran over Ye.

“As questions about SFFD leadership and training intensified, the brass attempted to shift blame and scapegoat an individual firefighter to minimize and downplay broader failures within the SFFD,” attorneys said in the lawsuit.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said in a court filing July 28 that she did not know who in the department, if anyone, leaked the name to ABC7 News. Hayes-White also said firefighters acted “immediately and effectively.”

“At great danger to themselves, department first responders rushed to the crash site, initiated a daring search and rescue for passengers trapped on the burning plane and extinguished fires,” Hayes-White said. “Their valiant efforts saved hundreds of lives. Three hundred and four people aboard Flight 214 survived.”

Hayes-White said Ye was one of three passengers who died after being ejected from one of the two back rows of the jetliner.

San Francisco fire officials said in a January 2014 accident investigation report to the National Transportation Safety Board that Ye died before being run over by either rescue vehicle.

Duckett, a 24-year veteran of the SFFD, is a black lesbian woman who the lawsuit said was a member of the first class of firefighters to join the department under a court-ordered consent decree to integrate the SFFD.

The lawsuit claimed SFFD named only her in retaliation for being outspoken against harassment and discrimination in the department, including “their continued marginalization and patronizing of women at SFO.”

Hayes-White said she was not aware before the lawsuit that Duckett “had ever complained that any department member had ever subjected her to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.”

Court records show the City Attorney’s Office reached a settlement with Duckett in early November. The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the tentative settlement in the coming weeks.

“While The City has sound arguments and defenses in this matter, we believe this is a reasonable and prudent settlement given the facts, the legal claims and the inherent uncertainty of litigation,” said John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office.

Eduardo Roy, an attorney for Duckett, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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