State Trooper Sites Bicyclist at Fault in Fatal Accident with Charleston Fire Apparatus

A North Charleston fire truck rushing to a crash site last year at 25 mph over the 45-mph speed limit pulled into a median to get around slower traffic and fatally struck a bicyclist.

A wrongful death lawsuit recently filed by Jihad Abdur-Rahim’s daughter claims the firefighter was driving recklessly and traveling too fast for the conditions.

But a state trooper who investigated the fatality listed Abdur-Rahim, 39, as the only person at fault for the crash, writing in a report that the bicyclist should not have been traveling in the paved median.

When attempts by firefighters and police officers to quickly reach accident and crime scenes result in traffic crashes, they often expose local governments to civil liability. North Charleston alone paid nearly $100,000 in settlements and legal fees related to wrecks in the last three months of 2014, data from the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office showed, though it was unclear how much of that was incurred by emergency responders.

But when it comes to responsibility in traffic court, South Carolina law largely forgives first responders involved in wrecks as long as their vehicles’ lights and sirens were on. In the wrecks that prompted lawsuits in recent years, firefighters and police officers were rarely ticketed, even when they were found to be at fault. In at least one case, an officer faulted in a wreck sued the driver of another vehicle involved.

Mullins McCleod, the Charleston attorney representing Abdur-Rahim’s daughter, Tanisha Goff, has disputed the investigators’ account of the Jan. 9, 2014, wreck. The lawsuit alleges that the firetruck driven by Leslie Fletcher was going more than 75 mph in the 45 mph speed zone as it crossed the median on Cross County Road near Bryhawke Circle. It then entered the oncoming lane, where it hit Abdur-Rahim, according to the documents.

The S.C. Highway Patrol’s report estimated Fletcher’s speed to have been 70 mph and stated that both the truck and Abdur-Rahim’s bicycle were southbound at the time. The truck was about a half-mile from its destination: a traffic accident at 7075 Cross County Road.

Fletcher, the fire truck driver, had been placed on paid leave after the crash, but he was promoted to captain in March 2014, according to the city’s website. Fire Department spokeswoman Bianca Bourbeau declined to comment on Fletcher’s promotion.

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