Orange County Fire Rescue Sued Over Murder-Suicide

Orange County Fire Rescue (Florida) along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are facing a negligence lawsuit brought by the son of a woman who was murdered last year.

Juanita Childs-Hughes, 74, died in a murder suicide on September 16, 2017. Her husband, Taylor Hughes, 88, was the perpetrator. Childs-Hughes was on the phone with dispatchers reporting smoke in the building when she was shot. Inexplicably, dispatchers who heard the shots being fired did not relay pertinent information to responders who left the scene when no one answered the door. The bodies were discovered several days later.

According to the complaint:

  • On September 16, 2017, Plaintiff, JUANITA CHILDS-HUGHES, placed a call to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
  • During the September 16, 2017 phone call, Plaintiff, JUANITA CHILDS HUGHES, stated that she smelled something burning in the home.
  • Immediately following the statement by Plaintiff, what are clear and unambiguous gun shots can be heard on the 911 phone call and then the phone is disconnected.
  • The 911 operator then attempts to call Plaintiff, JUANITA CHILDS-HUGHES, and several more clear and unambiguous gun shots are heard on the 911 phone call.
  • However, when the 911 operator relays the message to responding officers and the fire department, no mention of the clear and unambiguous gunshots are even mentioned.
  • On September 16, 2017, when the Defendant, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT, arrived on the scene, after having knowledge of the smoke within the home, they knocked, noticed nobody was answering, and made no further attempts at gaining access into the home. The same was done by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The suit was filed in Orange County Circuit Court by Childs-Hughes’s son, Anthony Culpepper. It seeks damages for “sustained mental anguish, loss of services and support, mental pain and suffering” by Culpepper. The suit does not seek damages for Childs-Hughes’ wrongful death, but alleges an assortment of negligence-based theories against the county and Sheriff Jerry L. Demings including failure to train dispatchers, sheriffs and firefighters; failure to supervise; and failure to take administrative action against those involved.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Culpepper v Orange County

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.
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