Murder Conviction for Death of EMT

Joseph Taye of Bear, Deleware, was convicted of first degree murder today in the tragic death of Michelle Smith, a 29-year-old emergency medical technician with the Delaware City Fire Company. Smith was killed on December 20, 2008, while attending to a patient at a motorcycle accident on the side of U.S. 13 in New Castle, Deleware.

Taye, a paraplegic, was operating the pedals of 2004 BMW 750 with a stick. He fled the scene with the help of another driver. Originally charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, driving while his license was revoked, leaving the scene of a crash and failure to report a crash, the manslaughter charge against Taye was upgraded on December 30, 2008, to first-degree murder because Smith was deemed to be performing her duties as a firefighter at the time. According to the Middletown Transcript, the first degree murder conviction will result in an automatic life sentance for Taye.

On July 31, 2009, Deleware Governor Jack Markell signed into law legislation making it a capital offense for anyone to have recklessly caused the death of an on-duty paramedic, EMT, fire marshal or fire police officer. A current law already covers law enforcement, correctional officers and firefighters. We will have to watch this law closely to fully understand its consequences. Certainly when one considers cases such as the 30 Mile Fire manslaughter case against the Incident Commander Elreese Daniels, or the conviction of Alan Baird in New York for the live burn fire death of another firefighter, what starts out as a law with the best of intentions could come back to haunt us. It would be tragic indeed if firefighters find themselves in the cross-hairs of such a law based on the instantaneous decisions we all have to make at emergency scenes.

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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