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Firefighter says not to blame for Asiana passenger's death

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A San Francisco firefighter who responded to the crash of an Asiana Airlines plane last year has accused her department of falsely blaming her for the accidental death of a teenage girl who was lying on the runway near the aircraft.

Chinese teenager Ye Mengyuan, 16, an Asiana passenger, was covered in fire-fighting foam when she was run over by emergency vehicles at the scene of the crash in July at San Francisco airport. State prosecutors did not file criminal charges in connection with her death, but Ye's family has filed a civil claim against the city.

The firefighter, Elyse Duckett, says in a legal claim filed with the city last week that members of the San Francisco Fire Department defamed her by leaking her name to a local television news reporter as being the individual responsible for the girl's death.

In her claim, Duckett says department officials told her she was to blame even though an emergency vehicle had earlier run over the teenager. Duckett's claim does not say whether her vehicle ever made contact with Ye.

Ye's family alleged in its filing that Ye was run over by one emergency vehicle, and then hit by a second one driven by Duckett.

A representative for San Francisco's city attorney on Tuesday declined to comment on Duckett's filing. If the city does not resolve Duckett's claim, she can then file a lawsuit in court.

Fire department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said the department is reviewing Duckett's claim.

"The Chief of Department has been and, continues to be, extremely proud of all of the members of the San Francisco Fire Department who responded to the Asiana Airline incident," Talmadge said, "especially under the extraordinary circumstances that they were faced with."

Ye, who was on her way to summer camp in the United States, had been sitting toward the rear of Flight 214 from Seoul and survived the Boeing 777's crash-landing but died from blunt force injuries, officials said in the days after her death.

The scene where Ye was killed was "dramatically chaotic" with people rushing around and firefighters fearful the airliner might explode, a state prosecutor said.

According to Duckett's claim, she had been shopping for food for the fire station at the time of the crash. She returned to the airport, took over a rescue vehicle and headed out to the crash site.

She has suffered emotional distress as a result of what occurred, the claim says, and has been harassed by the media and sustained irreparable damage to her reputation.

Dozens of people were seriously injured in the crash of Asiana Flight 214, which had 307 people on board when it hit a seawall in front of the runway, lost its tail and caught fire after skidding to a halt.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrew Hay)

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