A recent report in the San Bernardino Sun tells the bizarre story of Jeff Dart, a firefighter dealing with guilt after being ordered to leave the scene of a crash by his captain.
Dart is a 23 year veteran of the San Bernardino County Fire Department’s Fire Protection District. The incident stems from an ongoing dispute with his captain, Jesse Martinez. The two men had been butting heads, with Dart calling out Martinez for things he shouldn’t be doing, especially during a pandemic.
Dart had complained for weeks to Martinez, who is divorced, that he shouldn’t be bringing the women he was dating to fire Station 79 in Fontana to watch TV, bring in meals and participate in impromptu ridealongs.
Specifically, Dart feared contracting COVID-19 from the visitors, who were often unmasked, and then passing the virus onto his 13-year-old daughter, who has a compromised immune system due to a medical condition.
Right before the incident, Martinez created a lie: Dart’s performance had been poor and he was going to be written up unless he participated in a driving exercise on an I-15 overpass. But that lie concealed another lie.
It was only then that Martinez explained the training exercise was a ruse and the crew was there to wave flags as a funeral procession carrying the body of U.S. Army Sgt. Tyler Shelton of Apple Valley, killed in a Black Hawk training crash off San Clemente Island, passed underneath.
Weirdly, Martinez admitted to Dart that they shouldn’t be there because the battalion chief said the event organizers didn’t go through the proper channels to request a fire engine. In a recorded interview, Dart said “He put me through all that stress (of preparing for a training exercise) and used me to defy a direct order from Chief O’Bier.”
As the funeral procession approached, a crash occurred below them. A woman in the procession didn’t brake as the line of cars slowed and she rear-ended the car in front of her. Dart says Martinez seemed “panicked” and that he believes his presence may have been to blame for the crash. The woman that rear-ended the car was his former fiance’s mother. He says she saw him and became distracted, resulting in the crash.
Leaving the scene of the crash, a pregnant woman attempted to flag them down and get them to stop, but Martinez ordered them to keep going.
“Martinez insisted that the engine head immediately back to the fire station, said Dart, who was torn over whether to follow the captain’s unusual order or disobey it and drive to the crash location.”
But they didn’t. They parked a mile away from the site of the crash and listened to dispatch. Dart couldn’t handle sitting there not knowing whether or not someone needed help. It got worse when Martinez lied to dispatch.
For a full 13 minutes, Engine 79 remained idle even though its crew was the closest to the crash. Finally, at 5:42 p.m., Martinez signed on to the call, telling dispatchers he would look for the crash while pretending to be unaware of its location, Dart said.
Ultimately, Martinez’s order may have been unlawful due to it being a contradiction of his own oath. Dart has transferred to another station to avoid Martinez but he hasn’t been back to work. He’s out on workman’s comp and sufferers panic attacks after what happened. He says “I want redemption. I want to get past my guilt.”