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No criminal charges against first responders in Asiana Airlines crash

No charges will be filed against responders to July 6 crash in San Francisco, including driver of the rig that ran over a teen.

October 18, 2013|By Kate Mather
  • The wreckage of an Asiana Airlines jet rests on a runway at San Francisco International Airport after a July 6 crash landing. Officials say no charges will be filed against first responders, including the driver of a fire rig that ran over and killed a Chinese teen who was a passenger on the plane.
The wreckage of an Asiana Airlines jet rests on a runway at San Francisco… (Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty…)

No criminal charges will be filed against the first responders to the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco in July, including the firefighter who drove a rig that struck and killed a 16-year-old girl, prosecutors said Friday.

San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen M. Wagstaffe said that after reviewing "numerous videos" and reports from coroner's officials, police officers, firefighters and other first responders, his office determined there was "no criminal culpability for any individual involved in the response to the airline crash."

The death of Ye Mengyuan — a Chinese high school student traveling to a Southern California summer camp — was a "tragic accident that did not involve any violation of our criminal laws," Wagstaffe said in a statement.

Officials said Ye was covered in fire-retardant foam — but alive — when she was struck by a vehicle responding to the burning Boeing 777 after the jetliner clipped a sea wall and slammed into a runway at San Francisco International Airport. The aircraft rescue firefighting truck, known as an ARFF, is capable of spraying the foam while reaching speeds up to 70 mph.

Ye was sitting at the back of the plane, which lost its tail in the July 6 crash, but it remains unclear how her body ended up near the aircraft's left wing. Officials said she was on the ground when she was struck.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert J. Foucrault said Ye suffered crushing injuries and internal hemorrhaging — "multiple blunt injuries that are consistent with being run over by a motor vehicle."

Fire officials and others described a dangerous scene after the crash, with the burning plane, leaking fuel and scattered debris. More than 180 of the 307 passengers and crew members aboard Flight 214 were injured; Ye and two of her classmates were killed.

Wagstaffe said that his office, while reviewing the case, took into consideration the "remarkable efforts" of police and firefighters in a "very chaotic scene."

In a statement, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White again called Ye's death "a tragic accident." She said she remained "extremely proud of the valiant efforts" of the first responders she said were faced with "extraordinary circumstances."

"If not for the professional rescue, triage, treatment and transport operations that were conducted by all involved agencies, it is likely that there would have been a greater loss of life," she said.

Hayes-White said her department "remains vigilant in exploring areas in our operations, strategies and tactics where improvements could be made." She declined to comment further, citing the National Transportation Safety Board's ongoing investigation.

An attorney representing Ye's family said that although he was "not the least bit surprised" prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, his clients still planned to seek civil action "against the responsible parties."

Anthony Tarricone — whose firm is representing the families of the three victims killed and others who were injured — said first responders showed "seriously egregious conduct" in what he alleged was failure to properly examine Ye and move her away from the jetliner. The girl's death was "completely avoidable," he said.

"This was not the kind of event that should result in criminal charges against individual firefighters," Tarricone said. "I think it's obvious to all that it was a tragic accident, but it was an accident that never should have happened."

Tarricone said Friday afternoon he had not yet spoken to Ye's relatives about the district attorney's decision, but that the family "deserves a measure of justice" in her death.

kate.mather@latimes.com

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