Blame, Liability, and Bureaucracy

A while ago, I posted about the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash aftermath. The story's pretty complex, but it ended with a San Francisco firefighter filing a complaint against the department. She said she was unfairly blamed for the death of one of the passengers, who was run over and killed during the rescue effort. Turns out the victim, a 16 year old girl named Ye Meng Yuan, was actually struck by two separate Airport Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) trucks. The firefighter in question, Elyse Duckett, was driving the second of these, and she alleged that because she's black and lesbian, the first firefighter's involvement was covered up and all the blame and responsibility was put on her.

The city denied her claim, which they do with most of them, which is why they're typically seen as the precursor to an actual lawsuit. The suit that's really got them running scared though is the one coming from Ye's family, so they've taken the position (contrary to the coroner's report) that she was killed in the crash itself. Amidst all this, I read a news piece the other day that throws a whole lot more mud into the situation. Ye's death was investigated by the SFPD's hit-and-run detail, and their report portrays a department and individuals in a full-blown "Oh, shit" crisis, desperate to cover their own asses.

The investigators concluded that Duckett lied to them in their official interview four days after the crash. They had already seen helmet cam footage that indicated her rig had run Ye over, so they just sat back and let her spin a bullshit story that absolved herself of all responsibility. Then it turns out that the deputy fire chief sitting in on the interview, who agreed that Duckett got caught lying and reported as much to his boss, was himself sitting on undisclosed video evidence. The police got ahold of it the next day, and the footage revealed that a different ARFF truck had struck Ye eleven minutes before Duckett arrived on the scene. The full picture that developed really mitigated her own responsibility, so there was no reason to lie, but she seems to have been caught up in the general climate of fear and ass-covering.

One mystery solved is that Duckett's superior at the airport, Deputy Chief Carnes, seems to be the one who had it out for her from the beginning and poisoned the well with Chief Hayes-White. In her complaint, she says that her meeting with the big boss sixteen days after the crash was really a hostile interrogation, and that she was fitted for the role of scapegoat despite everyone knowing about the first truck. Another reason why they may have fixed on her as responsible for the victim's death is that the other firefighter apparently ran over her "lower body" while Duckett's vehicle crushed her skull. Also pertinent is the fact that over her 19 year career as the first female firefighter in the Airport Division, "she has filed several EEO complaints in regard to disparate treatment and harassment."

Anyway, I've been following this story pretty close, and by now I've noticed the pattern where every big information leak prominently includes something that totally trashes her reputation. Sucky way for a career to end, but you can see why at this point the city isn't at all interested in paying her some big settlement. What they're really hoping is that they can pull off a Hail Mary and get a court to agree that Ye was already dead by the time she was first discovered, because that means they can just make the whole thing just go away.