Tragedy in Houston Ends with Modest Settlement

On March 30, 2009, Leigh Boone was standing at a street corner with her bicycle, when a Houston Fire Department ladder truck responding to an alarm collided with an engine company, and within a split second rolled on top of her. She died from her injuries two weeks later on April 11, 2009. She was 29 years old.

Boone’s estate filed suit against the Houston Fire Department for wrong death, and in particular cited the competitive manner in which fire stations rush to incident scenes as a contributing factor in the accident. A total of 11 people were injured in the crash, 9 of them firefighters.

The investigation revealed that the ladder truck had the red light, and the engine had the green light. However, additional factors appear to have been involved that tend make the color of the light less of an issue. Consider one report that noted the just prior to the crash the ladder was traveling at 18 mph, 12 mph below the speed limit, while the engine was traveling at 52 mph, 22 mph over the speed limit. This report and others cite the possible operation of the Opticom device by the engine company driver as a factor by changing the traffic light to give the engine the green light.

While the cause of the accident will remain of interest to firefighters and safety officers, the bottom line is that on January 27, 2010 the City of Houston settled the lawsuit in a somewhat responsible way by agreeing to pay $225,000 to Boone’s estate. The statutory damage cap limited the total damages to $250,000, so the city was able to save $25,000. Maybe its just me, but I have this image of some young city attorney proudly reporting to the city bean-counters that he/she saved the city $25,000… at the expense of Leigh Boone’s family.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Bob Avsec

    Great posting. I’d like your permission to use this, and other postings from you blog, on the blog that I maintain for Army Fire & Emergency Services on the Army’s secure network, Army Knowledge On-line. My e-mail address is
    Best wishes,
    Bob Avsec

  • Bob
    Absolutely. Use them as you see fit. Please include a link back to my site.
    Take care

  • John K. Murphy

    Again we look at speed and the lack of communication. I cannot think of a time in my career that excessive speed contributed to good outcomes due to the fact there are so many dangers while we are responding – danger to the firefighters and community.
    With that said, it is important that the responding apparatus communicate with each other and not to depend on the Opticom technology especially where there is a challenge at intersections between responding apparatus. In certain areas of Washington State the local transit authority has permission to use Opticom technology to facilitate their transit systems and now we are seeing police cars with Opticom technology as well.
    Paying off the surviving family is the right thing to do but not killing Leigh Brown would have been a better first option.
    My continued advice is to slow down, inter-apparatus communication is important and for the responding apparatus, not totally depend on Opticom technology between competing apparatus for the green light signal. We cannot help our citizens if don’t arrive safely.


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