A controlled grass fire that severely burned a man who was sleeping in a Nebraska field was set without the landowner's permission, and authorities did not approve a permit for the fire until afterward, according to testimony from a federal lawsuit, reports The Associated Press.
Rushville Fire Chief Dwaine Sones acknowledged in a May 7 deposition obtained by The Associated Press that he "had a pretty good idea" of who owned the land before starting the fire but that he didn't seek permission.
The burn victim, Bryan Bluebird Jr., is suing the village of Rushville, its volunteer fire department, Sheridan County and the Sheridan County sheriff.
The incident happened in the heat of an unrelated legal battle between the Oglala Sioux Tribe, of which Bluebird is a member, and business owners in Whiteclay, a town of about a dozen residents that borders the Pine Ridge Indiana Reservation in South Dakota. Whiteclay's four beer stores frequently sell to residents of Pine Ridge, which lifted its alcohol ban in August amid concerns that it has failed to stop rampant alcoholism on the reservation. The town is known as a hangout for Pine Ridge residents who sleep in abandoned buildings and along the streets.
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins asked firefighters to start the controlled burn in the field after they had brought a fire on the northern edge of town under control, according to Sones' testimony. Bluebird alleges that authorities failed to thoroughly search the field and did not sound their sirens before they started the blaze.
The trial is set to begin on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in North Platte. Bluebird's attorney, Tom White, said he expects the case will go to trial, because his client's previous settlement offers were rejected. Phone messages left Wednesday for Sones and his attorney, Jeffrey Nix, were not immediately returned.
"There is a profound disagreement about the appropriate monetary compensation," White said. "Mr. Bluebird doesn't seem to be worth what most plaintiffs who went through something like this would be worth, in their eyes."
In court papers, Nix said Robbins circled the field twice and saw no one on the premises. Firefighters burned the field in sections, and Bluebird -- who was trespassing -- didn't respond until 30 or 40 minutes after they started, Nix said. Bluebird was so intoxicated that he likely was in a near-comatose state, despite the loud water-pump trunks and talking, Nix said.
Read more of the story here http://abcn.ws/1bcMHR1