Duckett's suit says fire officials blamed her for death, even though they knew that the other rig, driven by firefighter Jimmy Yee, had been the first to hit the girl.
May 10--A San Francisco firefighter claimed in a lawsuit filed Friday that Fire Department officials falsely identified her as having driven the rig that fatally struck a teenage survivor of last year's Asiana Airlines crash.
Elyse Duckett, 49, was made a "sacrificial lamb" so department leaders wouldn't have to answer further questions about the Fire Department's response to the crash July 6 at San Francisco International Airport, said the suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court.
Three passengers died, including 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan of China. She survived the crash but was killed when she was run over by two rigs as she lay on the ground near the Boeing 777's left wing.
"Elyse was a scapegoat so there wouldn't be a magnifying glass on all the other things that went wrong," including a breakdown in command procedures, radio communications and the triaging of victims, said her attorney, Eduardo Roy.
Duckett, who has been with the Fire Department for 24 years, was away from the airport shopping for groceries when the Asiana flight crashed on landing, according to the suit. Duckett raced back to the airport, climbed into a fire rig and headed out to the scene.
By the time she got there, the suit says, Ye had already been killed by another fire rig and her body was obscured in flame-retardant foam. Duckett's rig then ran over the girl, the suit says.
The San Mateo County Coroner's Office determined that Ye was alive before being struck by the rigs, but an autopsy report did not say which rig killed her.
Duckett's suit says fire officials blamed her for Ye's death, even though they knew that the other rig, driven by firefighter Jimmy Yee, had been the first to hit the girl.
Fire officials singled out Duckett because as an African American lesbian and single mother, she does not fit into the "fraternal" Fire Department, Roy said.
"She doesn't travel in packs," Roy said. "There is only one African American lesbian. ... So what do you do? You pick on the weaker, smaller group."
Fire Department officials subjected Duckett to a "surprise interrogation" at which they tried to pin Ye's death on her and later leaked her name to the media, the suit says.
The suit asks that department leaders acknowledge that Duckett did nothing wrong and identify whoever leaked her name. Duckett is also seeking $300,000 in damages.
Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the Fire Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But generally, Talmadge said, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White is proud of "all of the first responders who responded to the Asiana incident and performed extremely well under the extraordinary circumstances."
Will Kane is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WillKane
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