Houston Firefighter Speaks Out About Tragic Intersection Accident

The driver of a Houston ladder truck that was involved in a fatal accident in March of 2009, is speaking out about the accident, the public’s rush to judgment, and the investigation that seemed to place most of the blame on him.

Warren Ducote, 59, retired in November after being reprimanded and suspended in the aftermath of the March 30, 2009 accident that killed bicyclist Leigh Boone. He was driving Ladder 16 to an alarm when it collided with Engine 7, which was responding to the same alarm. The horrific crash sent Ladder 16 on its side, onto a car. In the process it fatally struck Boone who was standing on the sidewalk.

The investigation concluded that Ladder 16 had the red light, while Ducote insists the ladder had the green light. Evidence produced at his disciplinary hearing also indicated that Ladder 16 was traveling 18 mph as it approached the intersection, while Engine 7 was traveling 52 mph. The speed limit on both streets was 35 miles per hour.

“I've been hammered in the news, absolutely hammered, and a lot of the stuff that is being said is not right,” said Ducote.

One of the key questions in the case centers around the operation of the Opticom system by Engine 7’s driver, which investigators believe changed the traffic light giving Engine 7 the green light prior to the  collision. The Opticom system has been implicated in other fatal apparatus accidents, including a 2004 accident in Melrose Park, IL that killed a firefighter; a 2006 accident in Fairfield, Ohio that killed a civilian and resulted in manslaughter charges against the firefighter driving; and a 2006 accident in Johnston, Rhode Island that killed an 11 year old girl.

Ducote claims the system could not have operated as investigators claim, citing his own tests. Ducote and Houston Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 431, were critical of the investigation claiming it was more intent on assessing blame than getting to the truth.  For more on Ducote’s perspective.

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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