Firetruck in fatal crash ran red light

Vehicle was going 47 mph in 35-mph zone, police report

December 14, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

The driver of a city firetruck that hit a sport utility vehicle Sunday, killing its three occupants, sped through a red light at a Northwest Baltimore intersection while going 47 mph, according to a preliminary investigation by city police.

A police spokesman said yesterday that the Nissan Murano was going 23 mph when it was hit by the truck at Park Heights Avenue and Clarks Lane about 3:20 a.m. The driver, Iryna Petrov, 49, was killed, along with her husband, Mikhail Petrov, 35, and friend Igor Saub, 24.

"This is not a determination of cause," police spokesman Sterling Clifford said of the results released yesterday. "These are some basic facts that we know, but as far as city government is concerned, this is still an incident under investigation."

FOR THE RECORD - A graphic illustrating a triple-fatal accident between a Baltimore firetruck and a sport utility vehicle inaccurately depicted the direction in which the SUV was travelling. The vehicle was headed northeast - not southwest - on Clarks Lane, and was initially struck by the firetruck on its passenger side. The Sun regrets the error.

Officials said they have not determined whether charges will be filed in what is regarded as the worst vehicle accident involving Baltimore firefighters and civilians in 50 years.

Once police conclude their investigation, probably in a few weeks, the results will be turned over to city prosecutors, who can file charges, send the case to a grand jury or close the inquiry.

Drivers of emergency vehicles in Baltimore are required to stop at red lights even when racing to a call and can proceed through an intersection only after determining that it is safe.

"We would hope there wouldn't be any criminal charges because there certainly wasn't any criminal intent," said Richard Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Firefighters Local 734. "It was an accident."

The driver of Truck 27 was identified this week as Nathaniel D. Moore, 40, a firefighter and paramedic apprentice who joined the department three years ago.

Moore completed a state- required course for operating ambulances in 2005. In October, he was certified by the state and the department to drive larger trucks, a Fire Department spokesman said.

Officials declined to reveal how many times Moore had driven a firetruck in response to emergencies.

Passengers in the firetruck were Lt. Thomas Moore, a 33-year veteran not related to the driver; Darryl Alexander, a 25-year veteran; and Kenneth Jacobs, a 13-year veteran.

Facing discipline

All four firefighters remained off duty yesterday. In addition to the police investigation and review by prosecutors, they could face administrative sanctions. "These members remain off duty and upon their return to work some disciplinary action could take place," said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. "I don't expect any action to be taken for several more days."

The accident occurred as firefighters were responding to a report of smoke in a hallway of an apartment building, which turned out to be a pot of food burning on a stove.

Truck 27 was the third of four fire vehicles traveling north on Park Heights Avenue and through the intersection with Clarks Lane, police said. First was a firetruck. Nineteen seconds later, an ambulance went through, followed by Truck 27 nine seconds later, according to police.

Another fire engine was behind Truck 27. At least one firefighter on the engine saw the truck hit the SUV in the intersection and gave statements to police, according to authorities. Police have been aided by video footage of the accident, which was recorded by multiple surveillance cameras in the area, including at least one police camera, Clifford said.

Finding preliminary

"The next step is [for the accident investigator] to complete his investigation," the police spokesman said. Earlier this week, accident investigators shut down Park Heights Avenue to reconstruct the crash.

"There are a number of other things [the investigator] has yet to look at, some other determinations he'll need to make," Clifford said.

The city could face civil liability. But there is a limit - $20,000 per person or $40,000 per occurrence- to the amount the city would have to pay out in a lawsuit, according to state and city laws.

City and state laws have set a high standard of immunity for police and firefighters who are responding to an emergency with their lights and sirens on, according to Mitch Treager, an associate attorney with the Law Office of A. Dwight Pettit. He said lawsuits against individual vehicle operators are difficult to win.

"If it was wanton and reckless disregard for the life and safety of another, [a plaintiff] stands a very slight chance of succeeding in holding someone personally liable," Treager said. "But it's unlikely."

Going home

Alex Poberesky, an attorney who represents relatives of the Petrovs, said he is still gathering information about the crash. He said the Petrovs were on their way home to Pikesville when the accident occurred.

"We'll get all the information and find out details, and a lawsuit is always an option for us," said Poberesky, who said he was representing Iryna Petrov's two adult children and other relatives. "We'll keep all options open."

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