Alabama Rescue Captain Indicted In LODD Drowning of Subordinate

An Alabama rescue squad captain has been charged criminally with negligent homicide over the death of a squad member last April during a water rescue.

Michael Ervin Bettis, 49, has been indicted on one count of negligent homicide by Etowah County Grand Jury. The charge arises out of the April 25, 2015 death of Vicky Houston Ryan, 46. Both Bettis and Ryan were members of the Etowah County Rescue Squad.

Ryan was killed when the rescue boat she was in capsized while searching for a missing kayaker. The boat reportedly got too close to a lowhead dam on Big Wells Creek in Gadsden, as did another rescue boat. A total of nine rescuers ended up in the water resulting in Ryan’s death and injuries to three others.

The Alabama Bureau of Investigation investigated Ryan’s death and led to the charge against Bettis. It is unclear what role Bettis played in the incident, but he was charged under Alabama Code Section 13A-6-4, Criminally Negligent Homicide. § 13A-6-4 reads as follows:

(a) A person commits the crime of criminally negligent homicide if he causes the death of another person by criminal negligence.

(b) The jury may consider statutes and ordinances regulating the actor’s conduct in determining whether he is culpably negligent under subsection (a) of this section.

(c) Criminally negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor, except in cases in which said criminally negligent homicide is caused by the driver of a motor vehicle who is driving in violation of the provisions of Section 32-5A-191; in such cases criminally negligent homicide is a Class C felony.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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