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San Francisco firefighter a 'scapegoat' in death of Asiana passenger: lawsuit

Women embrace near wreaths after a prayer vigil for the victims 0f the Asiana Airlines crash at West Valley Christian School in West Hills,
Women embrace near wreaths after a prayer vigil for the victims 0f the Asiana Airlines crash at West Valley Christian School in West Hills,

By Madeleine Thomas

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A veteran San Francisco firefighter blamed for accidentally running over and killing a 16-year-old passenger thrown from an Asiana Airlines plane crash sued the city on Friday, claiming she was unfairly made a scapegoat.

The suit, filed by Elyse Duckett in San Francisco Superior Court, acknowledged that the fire department vehicle she was driving struck the female passenger, Ye Meng Yuan, but Duckett argued another emergency vehicle ran over the girl first.

The other vehicle also accidentally covered Ye's body with fire-suppressant foam, obscuring her from sight, the suit said.

"The sacrificial lamb selected was 24-year veteran firefighter Elyse Duckett, a lesbian and woman of color who helped pioneer desegregation efforts in the (fire department)," the lawsuit stated.

Ye was one of three passengers killed in the July 2013 crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport. Another 180 passengers were injured.

State prosecutors did not file criminal charges in connection with Ye's death, but her family has filed a civil claim against the city.

Duckett's lawsuit alleged the fire department had video evidence that Ye was first covered with foam and run over by a different vehicle, but that the department misrepresented evidence regarding the crash and its aftermath, and pressured Duckett to take sole responsibility for the girl's death.

Duckett's lawsuit accused members of the San Francisco Fire Department of leaking her name to a local television news reporter as being the one to blame for the girl's death.

The firefighter, who seeks unspecified damages, accused the city of violating her procedural rights and retaliating against her for previous discrimination complaints.

A San Francisco fire department representative declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Fire department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge in January reacted to a claim Duckett had submitted that month in advance of filing the lawsuit.

"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."

The National Transportation Safety Board has scheduled a June hearing to determine the probable cause of the crash of the Asiana Airlines flight, a Boeing 777 jet.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Mary Wisniewski)