South Dakota burn victim sues Neb. county, villageOMAHA, Neb. — A South Dakota man who was burned by a controlled grass fire in the Nebraska border town of Whiteclay has filed a negligence lawsuit against local authorities.
By: MARGERY A. BECK, The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — A South Dakota man who was burned by a controlled grass fire in the Nebraska border town of Whiteclay has filed a negligence lawsuit against local authorities.
Bryan Bluebird, 51, of Pine Ridge, says in the lawsuit, filed in federal court, that authorities failed to spot him lying in a field and ignited the blaze on a dangerously windy day.
The lawsuit wasn’t without warning. Six months ago, Bluebird filed a tort-claim notice with Sheridan County and the Rushville Fire Department in northwest Nebraska. Bluebird’s attorney, Tom White of Omaha, said the entities did not respond to the claim, giving Bluebird the right to sue.
Bluebird is suing the county, fire department, the village of Rushville and various elected officials. Attorneys for the village and county did not return messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Bluebird says in the lawsuit that he sat down and fell asleep in a field next to Whiteclay on March 6 and awoke when he “became aware of his hands and feet burning.”
Bluebird has said a friend pulled him out of the fire and beat the flames out with his hands as Bluebird drifted in and out of consciousness. He was taken to Pine Ridge’s hospital, where medical staff sedated him.
He awoke almost three days later at a burn center in Greeley, Colo., where he spent several weeks recovering from burns on roughly 25 percent of his body, including his hands, face, left leg, lower back and abdomen.
Bluebird said that members of the volunteer fire department should have seen him when they set the blaze.
White says Bluebird — an Army veteran who worked laying cinderblocks, branding cattle and fixing cars before the fire — has undergone several surgeries and skin grafts.
“He has some fingers that have been fused together ... the fingers on his left hand melted together,” White said. “He’s facing yet another surgery to see if they can salvage the function in that hand.”
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for medical costs, loss of earning capacity and pain and suffering.
“He has continuing problems — obviously some mental issues after being burned like that,” White said.
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins, who is named in the lawsuit, has said firefighters searched the field before they started the fire.
Firefighters set the blaze to protect several abandoned homes and nearby businesses in the 11-person town — including the four beer stores that have long been a source of tension with members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The stores sell a vast amount of alcohol to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where alcohol is banned. Last year, the stores sold the equivalent of 4.3 million 12-ounce cans of beer.