Experts convicted of manslaughter for not warning about earthquake

A court in Italy has convicted seven earthquake experts of manslaughter for not warning the public about the April 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in L’Aquila.

The decision brings to mind the manslaughter charges brought against a firefighter after the fatal 2001 Thirtymile fire in Washington state.

In the case in Italy, the judge sentenced six scientists and a former government official to six years and ordered them to pay court costs and damages of $10.2 million. Most of the seven were seismologists and geologists, members of a National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks that met shortly before the quake struck after weeks of frequent small tremors. But they did not issue a public warning.

The court’s decision shook a community of scientists who evaluate the risks of natural hazards. “This is the death of public service on the part of professors and professionals,” Luciano Maiani, the current president of the risk commission, told the news agency Ansa.

Also shaken was the firefighting community when Ellreese Daniels was charged with 11 felonies, including 4 manslaughter charges, for the deaths of four firefighters during the 2001 Thirtymile fire. After those fatalities, politicians passed a federal law making it mandatory for the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had no experience in wildland fire, to investigate fatalities of U.S. Forest Service personnel that occurred on a fire to decide if any federal laws were broken by firefighters during the suppression of the fire.

After the trainee wildland fire investigator for the OIG finished looking at the Thirtymile fire, on January 30, 2007 Mr. Daniels, the crew boss of the four firefighters that died, was charged with the felony and manslaughter charges. They were later reduced to two counts of making false statements to which Mr. Daniels pleaded guilty on August 20, 2008. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 90 days of work release.

In a case that is similar in some respects to the Thirtymile fire, three senior fire officers from the Warwickshire Fire Service in the UK were charged with gross negligence manslaughter following the deaths in 2007 of four firefighters while they were working a large fire at a vegetable warehouse in the village of Atherstone on Stour. They were acquitted in May, 2012 after a six-week trial.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.