Homeless Man Charged with Murder After Firefighter Ran Over By Fire Truck

v31A case in Elizabeth, New Jersey is raising some difficult questions about the limits of liability for injuries to emergency personnel. Emilio Vasquez, 19, a homeless man from Guatemala, is charged with breaking in a home and starting a fire to stay warm. The fire got out of control and the fire department was called. Firefighter Gary Stephens was one of those responding, but was killed when a fire truck backed into him. Vasquez has been charged with his murder.

The loss of a firefighter like Stephens is obviously a terrible blow for not just his family but society. There is also good reason to aggravate criminal charges when criminal conduct results in an injury or death of a police officer or emergency personnel. However, a murder charge in this case is difficult to square with the facts.

The truck was moving only 5 miles an hour and had a back signal (but the nearby New Jersey turnpike may have drowned out the warning). Stephens was pinned under the truck.

It appears that this was not an intentional act of arson but a homeless person trying to keep warm. Serious criminal charges are clearly warranted but a murder charge seems excessive despite our collective sense of loss with Stephens’ death.

These type of charges for collateral deaths have increased in the last few decades. It began with the loss of officers due to intentional criminal acts of arson and other crimes. It is now being used in cases that appear to be negligence and recklessness. Other cases of accidental fires, however, has resulted in murder charges as here and here and here. However, some judges have thrown out such charges as excessive, as in this case of two firefighters killed in putting out a fire in an illegal marijuana cultivation operation.

For the full story, click here.

17 thoughts on “Homeless Man Charged with Murder After Firefighter Ran Over By Fire Truck”

  1. WHAT? Unbelieveable. This is as bad as the Galveston cops who beat the 12 year old girl and then charged her with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

    And Al Jazeera is one of the world’s more reputable news agencies. More so than ABC, CNN, or MSNBC. Fox? They are not a news agency. Brandon, go troll elsewhere.

  2. Mercie,

    You’re right. In Detroit things are so bad that people are deliberately committing crimes so they will be sent to prison to have food, medical care, and a warm place to stay.

  3. Funny how no one addresses the underlying issue: the homeless guy had to break in a house and start a fire to get warm. Instead of try to address the problem of poverty and homelessness, let’s just lynch the guy for a pure accident.

  4. Waynebro,
    You are exactly correct that Al-Jazeera is a legitimate reporting agency. They are probably less biased than Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

  5. I wonder if this is a prosecution under the felony-murder rule or the misdemeanor-manslaughter variation?

  6. Leftist nutcases think Informer who prevented deaths a traitor!

    In a federal courtroom in Minneapolis this month, the public transformation of Brandon Darby of Austin will become complete.

    In four years, he has gone from a never-trust-the-government activist to the confidential informant who helped the FBI arrest two Austin men on suspicion of building firebombs during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September.

    “I feel like, as an activist, I played a direct role in stopping violence,” Darby, 32, said in his first interview on his role.
    Darby was the government’s chief informant in the case against David McKay and Bradley Crowder. The two are scheduled to go on trial in U.S. District Court on Jan. 26 on accusations they built Molotov cocktails during the convention. They are being held without bail.

    Darby’s admission shocked Austin’s activist community, which includes people who have worked with him on a variety of grass roots organizing efforts for years.

    “Everyone that knew Brandon has gone through a whole range of emotions. Clearly, he’s betrayed the trust of the community, and all the communities he’s worked with,” said Lisa Fithian, a “social-justice” activist who worked with Darby in Austin.

  7. >God worshipping anti-abortion anti-gay Islamic fundamentalists will >last.

    Substitute the word “Christian” for “Islamic” and you’ve described the GOP.

  8. waynebro, are you serious? Everybody with a clue knows that Al Jazeera is in bed with Al Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and almost every other fanatical terrorist in the world.

    Try reading the articles of former Al Jazeera reporters who refused to present every story in their typical biased manner – they were told to find work elsewhere.

    I am curious how long this unholy alliance of the Godless pro-abortion left wing will last with the God worshipping anti-abortion anti-gay Islamic fundamentalists will last.

    Well, your enemy’s enemy is your friend but seriously, how can the left embrace the civilian killing terrorists of the world?

  9. Ohio,
    I didn’t know that it was against International law to have a ship in international waters carrying 3 journalists from Al Jazeera on it. Now if it was carrying some Fox News “journalists” then I could understand the illegal action by the Israelis.

  10. “We Lived to Tell the Story: Lebanon Rescued Us: Cynthia McKinney”

    My personal, and I know the group’s, thanks must go to Al Jazeera, that allowed three of their reporters to be onboard with us on our voyage. As a result, Al Jazeera carried the story of the Dignity live, from castoff in Cyprus when our spirits were high, right up through the manacing maneuvers of the huge, super fast Israeli ships before they rammed us, ………… Al Jazeera carried our story as “breaking news” and performed a real service to its audience and to us.

    What a total farce! McKinney had THREE Al Jazeera “reporters” on the vessel when they tried to run the Israeli blockaide! Unbelievable that Mr. Turley would put this on his blog without the little details like Al Jazeera being the ones doing the reporting of the incident along with the likes of Cynthia McKinney! This is an insult to every Israeli alive & dead!

  11. I agree with all of the fine posters above that this case of charging a homeless man with murder is not only a stretch, it is a crime in itself. And Mike, you are so correct about the unbalanced use of these kinds of measures against the poor and people of color.

  12. Yet another example of prosecutorial zealotry that makes a mockery of criminal justice. The defendant’s abased position provides an easy target for someone desiring media attention. This dovetails too with the “eye for eye” system of justice that many conservatives call for. It is interesting though, how these draconian measures seem only called for when dealing with impoverished people and/or people of color.

  13. I agree with the professor’s take on this. In the case of an arsonist intentionally setting a fire and a responder being killed as a result, murder charges could certainly be warranted. But this doesn’t sound like that kind of situation.

  14. So firefighter gets killed because a firetruck backs into him and they charge a homeless guy standing by with MURDER?

    Wouldn’t the guy driving the truck that backed into him be the target of any charges? And if it was an accident, which it obviously was, what’s up with the charges?

    This is part of the class warfare that is going on in the US. This isn’t the first time we’ve read cases about a homeless person being charged in relation to starting a fire and someone was injured. Think about it.

    If a homeowner sets his house on fire while cooking on the grill, or enjoying a fire in his fireplace, and a firefighter gets hurt or killed putting it out, do we charge the homeowners with murder?

    If a driver gets a flat tire do we charge them with murder if the Wrecker operator gets hit by a car and killed while hooking up the vehicle on the side of the road?

    What charges beyond trespassing and perhaps some fire code did this homeless person merit? It’s a terrible tragedy that the firefighter died, but the homeless guy didn’t kill him. In fact the firefighter didn’t even die in the fire, but from a TRAFFIC ACCIDENT. How is that the fault of the homeless guy? He wasn’t driving the truck. He wasn’t even in the truck. He didn’t tell the driver of the truck to run over anyone.

    This is clearly a case of the city declaring the life of the firefighter as being of more intrinsic worth than the homeless man. The homeless man should be charged with trespassing and whatever fire codes or destruction of property charges that comes with lighting a fire, but MURDER is no where near what happened here.

    The homeless guy was not driving the truck. If anyone was negligent here it was the driver of the truck and the firefighter who didn’t listen to the back up chimes.

    I hope that one of you fine attorney’s will rush to the defense of this homeless man and make sure that cities and authorities learn that they can’t call something murder just because of a random set of events.

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