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Firefighter handcuffed by CHP officer at freeway crash files claim

Highway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersDisasters and Accidents

SAN DIEGO -- A Chula Vista firefighter who was handcuffed by a California Highway Patrol officer for refusing to move his fire engine at the scene of a freeway crash has filed a damage claim against the CHP.

Lawyer Dan Gilleon said he filed the claim on behalf of Jacob Gregoire, a 12-year veteran of the Fire Department. A claim is often a forerunner to a lawsuit.

In a letter to the CHP, Gilleon said his client will agree to settle the claim without any compensation if the CHP agrees to end a "longstanding problem" of its officers delaying or obstructing firefighters or emergency medical technicians at freeway crashes.

Officials "have tried, and are continuing to try, to hide what happened," Gilleon wrote. "The coverup must stop."

The incident, which was caught on video by a TV news crew, occurred the night of Feb. 4 at the scene of a rollover crash on Interstate 805.

The next day, CHP and Chula Vista Fire Department officials meet and issued a joint statement calling the incident "unfortunate" and "not representative of the manner in which our agencies normally work together."

The Chula Vista Fire Department had arrived first at the crash, with a firefighter-engineer parking his fire truck behind an ambulance to protect responders and the crash victims who were being loaded for transport to a hospital.

“I was told [by a CHP officer], 'If you don’t get back into your fire engine and go back to your fire station, you will be arrested,'” Gregoire told KGTV-Channel 10 on Monday as the claim was filed.  “I was dumbfounded.”

While two other fire engines left the scene, Gregoire said he refused to leave because his rig was acting as a protective buffer.

“I couldn't live with myself for the rest of my life that someone could potentially be injured because I didn't stand up for what I believe in,” Gregoire said.

Moments later, Gregoire was cuffed and put him in the back of a CHP cruiser. Gregoire said he thought his career was over.

“I'm sitting in the back of this ambulance…thinking how am I going to tell my wife?” he told the TV station.

After the two agencies’ supervisors went back and forth for half an hour, Gregoire was released. No charges were filed.

In their joint statement issued after the crash, CHP and Chula Vista fire officials said the incident would be the topic of future joint training sessions "in an ongoing effort to work more efficiently together."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATsandiego

 

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