A Pine Ridge Reservation man burned in a controlled grass fire in Whiteclay in March has filed a federal negligence lawsuit against Sheridan County, the Rushville Volunteer Fire Department, the village of Rushville, and various elected officials.
51-year old Bryan Bluebird of Pine Ridge says in his lawsuit that authorities failed to spot him lying in a field and ignited the blaze on a dangerously windy day. He is seeking unspecified damages for medical costs, loss of earning capacity and pain and suffering.
The suit is a follow up to the tort-claim notice Bluebird’s attorney, Tom White of Omaha, filed with the county and fire department 6 months ago. White says they didn’t respond to the claim, giving Bluebird the right to sue.
Members of the fire department conducted the controlled burn on a vacant lot on the edge of Whiteclay on March 6th to reduce the threat of fire to Whiteclay.
Bluebird says in the lawsuit that he sat down and fell asleep in the field, then awoke when he “became aware of his hands and feet burning.” He argues that firefighters should have seen him while setting the fire.
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins, a defendant in the lawsuit, has said firefighters did searched the field before they started the fire.
Those on both sides say intoxicated people have been known to pass out in that field, but Bluebird has insisted he hadn’t been drinking at the time.
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 the IHS hospital in Pine Ridge, where medical staff sedated him, then to a Colorado burn center.
He awoke almost three days later with burns on roughly 25% of his body, including his hands, face, left leg, lower back and abdomen.
Bluebird – an Army veteran who worked laying cinderblocks, branding cattle and fixing cars before the fire – spent several weeks in the Colorado facility, with White saying he’s undergone several surgeries and skin grafts.
White says the fingers on Bluebird’s left hand melted together and are fused, leaving him facing another surgery to see if they can salvage the function in that hand.