Coroner delays release of crash victims’ autopsies

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A county coroner said Monday that he would not report for “at least two or three weeks” whether one of the two teenage girls who died in the Asiana Airlines crash was struck and killed by an emergency vehicle.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said that while autopsies of the two Chinese girls have been completed, he wants to review written information from the public safety agencies that responded to the crash and audio dispatch files before determining their causes of deaths.  

“This is a very high-profile case and has obviously generated a lot of attention,” Foucrault said at his office located a few miles south of San Francisco International Airport where the plane crashed Saturday. “I want to make absolutely sure my conclusions are correct.”

Foucrault earlier had said he hoped to have preliminary results on Monday that he would make public once they had been shared with the girls’ families. He said he made the decision to hold off independently and that neither city officials nor federal accident investigators had asked him for a postponement.

San Francisco fire officials acknowledged Monday that one of their trucks responding to the crash may have accidentally struck one of the two teenage girls who were the accident’s only fatalities. “One of our fire apparatus may have come into contact with one of our two victims who was at the scene,” Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said during a news conference. “I assure you we are looking closely at this.”

The teenagers’ families are expected to arrive in San Francisco on Monday, and they will get the autopsy results before they are made public, Foucrault said. Federal accident investigators have reviewed airport surveillance footage to see if it showed someone being struck by a fire truck on the runway and found “it wasn’t conclusive,” National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said Monday.

Interviews with emergency responders and especially the autopsy report are expected to bring answers, Hersman said. “It is a very serious issue and we want to understand it,” she said. San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes said a report that one of the first five emergency vehicles might have “come in contact” with one of the girls was made as firefighters transitioned from rescue and suppressing the fire to treating and transporting injured passengers to area hospitals.

Carnes couldn’t give an exact time of the report, but said police, FBI and other officials were notified “immediately” after the firefighter at the scene reported his concerns. Hayes-White said the five drivers of the rescue vehicles all passed drug and alcohol tests. No one has been suspended.

The coroner said both victims have been positively identified through fingerprints and that an investigator from his office was waiting to meet with their parents on Monday to help them make arrangements to claim the bodies.

Chinese state media and Asiana have identified the girls as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, students at Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China. They were part of a group of 29 students and five teachers from the school who were heading to summer camps in California, according to education authorities in China.

The group had been scheduled to arrive at the West Valley Christian Church’s school in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley on Monday after spending the weekend touring the San Francisco Bay Area, school administrator Derek Swales said.

The high school and middle school students would have been taught English and American culture in the mornings and would have toured local universities and gone sightseeing in the afternoons. Organizers of the camp had lined up host homes for the Chinese teens, Swales said.

Swales said a charter bus was heading north to pick up the teens when the crash occurred. He said the camp was postponed and the students will go back to their families. Some church members have begun donating money, and church leaders were trying to figure out how to contribute to the families devastated by the crash.

“We want people to know that we care even though we have not met them,” the Rev. Glenn Kirby said.

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