Two media outlets sue over records of Hotshots' deaths in Yarnell fire

Sept. 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM
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PHOENIX, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Two Arizona news outlets are suing to gain release of records concerning the deaths of 19 elite firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill fire this summer.

The Arizona Republic and KNAZ-TV, both in Phoenix, allege in their complaint against Yavapai County Sheriff's Office and the medical examiner's office that diagrams, some photographs and other documents were public records under Arizona law and that Arizona residents have a compelling interest to learn what led to the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in the Yarnell Hill fire in June, the Republic reported.

The civil suit was filed Wednesday in Yavapai County Superior Court.

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher declined to comment, the Republic said.

County Attorney Sheila Polk said in an email she was fulfilling a "legal obligation to limit disclosure so as to avoid the infliction of substantial and irreparable private harm."

Attorney David Bodney, representing the news outlets, said the plaintiffs were seeking the items for news-gathering purposes so a full accounting would be available to the public, and weren't seeking sensitive personal information.

The lawsuit seeks the documents' release by court order or a judicial inspection of records to determine which should be made public.

The 19 firefighters were killed June 30 when they were trapped by flames in a steep canyon near Yarnell. Multiple investigations are under way.

Sharon Knutson-Felix, executive director of the 100 Club of Arizona, a non-profit that assists families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, told the Republic she was concerned that photographs or information may become public and result in hurtful or painful comments posted on social media websites that surviving children may see.

David Turbyfill, whose son was among the Hotshots killed, said he understood some families' reticence, but he wants to know if fire commanders were negligent, if deployment shelters need improvement or if the firefighters made mistakes.

"I have always thought: The more openness, the better," said Turbyfill.

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