Lawsuit over injuries from 2012 Whiteclay fire settled

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The man severely injured in an unauthorized controlled burn near the Nebraska-South Dakota border in 2012 will receive $550,000 to help pay his medical bills.

The lawsuit Bryan Bluebird Jr. filed against the village of Rushville, its volunteer fire department, Sheridan County and the Sheridan County sheriff was settled last week.

"He's very pleased,'' said attorney Tom White, but Bluebird continues to suffer from serious injuries sustained in the fire.

Court documents show fire officials failed to get permission from the landowner or a permit before setting the field on fire in March 2012. And White said officials failed to search the field thoroughly beforehand.

The attorney who represented fire officials and Rushville, Jeffrey Nix, declined to comment Tuesday. Fire Chief Dwaine Sones didn't immediately respond to a message.

The incident highlighted concerns about alcohol sales in the small Nebraska town of Whiteclay, which is near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Bluebird's attorney acknowledged in court papers that the Pine Ridge native was intoxicated at the time of the fire. Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, of which Bluebird is a member, have protested Whiteclay's four beer stores because they sell millions of cans of beer annually to Pine Ridge residents.

The town of Whiteclay is known as a hangout for Pine Ridge residents who sleep in abandoned buildings and along streets. The reservation voted in August to lift its alcohol ban amid concerns that it has failed to stop rampant alcoholism on the reservation.

Bluebird sustained burns over 25 percent of his body in the 2012 fire, including on his hands, face, left leg, lower back and abdomen.

White said Bluebird can't use his ring fingers or pinky fingers on either hand. The U.S. Veterans Administration has paid nearly $236,000 to treat Bluebird's injuries.

Nebraska law requires local fire chiefs to approve an open-burn permit before a controlled fire is started, but that wasn't done until after that fire.

The volunteer fire department agreed to pay $500,000 of the settlement with the sheriff's department paying the remaining $50,000.

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