Report: Chaos in Dallas Firefighter’s Fatal Fall

A Dallas firefighter’s 2014 death while responding to a traffic accident on an icy overpass in Mountain Creek was accidental but preventable, a pair of investigative reports shows, reports The Dallas Morning News.

A Dallas Fire-Rescue line-of-duty-death report about William Scott Tanksley — he went by Scott — has not been made widely available, but has been posted on the department’s intranet for firefighters. The Dallas Morning News obtained the report late Tuesday. And a state Fire Marshal’s report, which openly questions Tanksley’s actions, was released last month.

Report Released on Death of Dallas Firefighter in Fall from Overpass

The Dallas report does not question Tanksley’s actions, nor does it recommend any changes. But fire department spokesman Lt. Joel Lavender said Wednesday that the department “agreed with the detailed findings and recommendations of the State Fire Marshals report.”

The Dallas investigation centers on confusion at the scene; none of the firefighters on the dark, ice-coated bridge seemed to know where Tanksley, 40, was until he was spotted face-down on a road 56 feet below them. Firefighters saw him after they found his blood-stained radio on the ground.

The state report, meanwhile, partially faults Tanksley, a 14-year veteran of the Dallas department, for not taking proper safety precautions. Investigators said he didn’t fully communicate where he was or what he was doing alone Feb. 10, 2014 — a cold, icy night when Dallas Fire-Rescue handled 155 calls in two hours — on an overpass that connected Interstate 20 and Spur 408.

A firefighter told Dallas investigators that Tanksley said on his radio at the scene that cars were “ping-ponging off of the concrete wall.”

At some point around 8:24 p.m. that night, Tanksley, who was tending to two stranded motorists, crossed over a concrete barrier to the southbound side of the overpass, which had open lanes, from the northbound side. Tanksley didn’t have a traffic lookout to warn him about oncoming traffic, according to the state report.

The state investigators said they do not know why Tanksley crossed over the median onto a side where he was unprotected.

“Crossing over a barrier to work an incident in an unprotected work area should be highly discouraged,” the Fire Marshal report states.

Within moments, the driver of a 2007 Cadillac CTS on the southbound side saw the car in front of him -– a 2009 Dodge Charger — hit its brakes. The Cadillac slid out of control and hit Tanksley. The car carried Tanksley on its trunk lid as it slid. When it hit the side of the bridge, the car tossed the firefighter over the side.

Tanksley fell to another bridge below. A civilian called 911 at 8:30 p.m. to report Tanksley was on the pavement in front of her. The impact and fall knocked him out of his boots. His smashed up flashlight wound up in the backseat of one of the wrecked cars.

Dallas investigators said the first firefighter to find him, Eddie Trevino, “expressed disbelief that the accident had happened.”

Firefighters performed CPR on Tanksley, who showed facial trauma. CareFlite couldn’t respond to the poor icy conditions, so a ground ambulance took him to Methodist Dallas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 8:50 p.m. The Medical Examiner ruled that he died of blunt force trauma. The Dallas report attributed his death to the fall’s impact.

Fire officials stated the car was traveling at “an unsafe speed” when it hit Tanksley. But in July 2014, a grand jury declined to indict the Cadillac driver for his actions.

The state report suggests that the incident commander at the scene could have considered dividing up the response more because of the deteriorating conditions and multiple accident scenes.

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