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Charges possible against firefighter in Asiana passenger death

Wednesday, October 02, 2013
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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There are major developments on the young passenger who survived the Asiana plane crash, only to be run over and killed by a San Francisco fire truck. Investigators have forwarded the case to the San Mateo district attorney for possible charges against the firefighter at the wheel. This, on the same day the ABC 7 I-Team used the California Public Records Act to obtain the young victim's autopsy report.

Wednesday's news is difficult to hear for the firefighter behind the wheel of the truck that killed the 16-year-old passenger. But it's so hard for her parents back in China -- she was an only child.

San Mateo County prosecutors confirm they are now deciding whether to charge a veteran firefighter in the death of 16-year-old Mengyuan Ye, a passenger aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Al Serrato, San Mateo Prosecutor told Dan Noyes, "I think we're looking at probably two to three weeks to make our decision."

The I-Team first reported two months ago that 49-year-old Elyse Duckett was driving a massive "aircraft rescue firefighting" rig, Mobile 37, without a spotter. Department policy is two firefighters in the truck when fully staffed, but solo driving is allowed in an emergency.

The truck rolled over Ye, killing her. Firefighters then covered her body with a yellow tarp. And now prosecutors are considering an "involuntary vehicular manslaughter" charge against Duckett.

Al Serrato, San Mateo Prosecutor, says, "It could be a felony with gross negligence, a misdemeanor without gross negligence or again nothing at all, just a tragic accident."

The autopsy report obtained Wednesday under the California Public Records Act shows the "location of death -- runway 28 L". Cause -- "multiple blunt injuries", and concludes it was an "accident" that mobile 37 ran over Ye.

Robert Foucrault, San Mateo Coroner: "At least once and maybe even twice."
Dan Noyes: "Maybe even twice, so it could have been the same truck or it could have been two trucks?"
Robert Foucrault, San Mateo Coroner: "Right, it could have been the same vehicle or it could have been another vehicle."

Coroner Robert Foucrault tells Dan Noyes the first impact to Ye's head killed her, the second hit to her body came after she had died.

The autopsy's findings were confirmed by various videos Foucrault reviewed -- shot from the fire trucks, a battalion chief's helmet camera, and from the control tower. He says Ye is clearly visible on the ground, several rescue personnel walk by without providing aid, and a truck covers her in firefighting foam.

Robert Foucrault, San Mateo Coroner: "When the foam was put out and the vehicle ran over her, that is very well documented in the video."
Dan: "Is she covered in foam at that point?"
Robert Foucrault, San Mateo Coroner: "At that point, she is, yes."

Anthony Tarricone represents dozens of survivors from Asiana Flight 214, and the families of the three teenage girls who died. The family of Mengyuan Ye is the only one with a case against the San Francisco Fire Department.

Anthony Tarricone, Ye Family Lawyer: "Fire department personnel directed one vehicle around her when she was on the ground, she was known to be there, she was never properly examined, she was there left unattended."

In July, the I-Team quoted sources who say a firefighter pulled Ye from the plane, and left her near the wing before the fire truck ran her over. Tarricone tells me he will file claim papers with the city and county of San Francisco shortly -- the first step to a lawsuit.

He says Mengyuan Ye's family is struggling with the loss of their only child.

Anthony Tarricone, Ye Family Lawyer: "It's just about three months now and of course, they're still heartbroken and it's just a terrible, terrible tragedy for this family and the other families involved as well."

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White declined an on camera interview late today, saying she had not viewed the autopsy report. She confirms Elyse Duckett is still working at the airport as a firefighter. She expressed condolences to Ye's family at a news conference in July.

Joanne Hayes-White, SFFD Chief on July 19th: "Very difficult to hear, devastating, heartbroken, there's not a lot of words to describe how badly we feel, how sorry we feel about it."

The chief told Dan she had not received a copy of the autopsy report from the coroner, even though she had requested it. So, Dan emailed it to her. She also says she expects the NTSB report on the crash to be done in about a month.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
Asiana Airlines crash, plane crash, crash, san francisco international airport, peninsula news, dan noyes
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