Northwest NEWS

February 15, 1999

Local News

Moorhead to face charges from fire district

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--George Moorhead will again appear before authorities, this time answering charges leveled against him by his own employer.

   The Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District is alleging that Moorhead's 1997 two-car crash that killed three men brought discredit upon the district, adversely affected the morale of other firefighters, and has affected his ability to continue doing what he's done for the past 12 years.

   Moorhead will have a chance to respond to the charges--a compilation from the district's rules and regulations, conditions of employment and "statements of fact"--before the board of commissioners this Wednesday, Feb. 17. The five-member board will act as his judge and jury.

   "The worst [discipline] could be is termination," said Woodinville Fire Chief Steve Smith. "Each of the charges can range in severity from written reprimand on up."

   Even though the accident occured while Moorhead was off-duty, the district considers it work-related because conviction will affect his ability to drive vehicles on duty, and that his employment duties require him to practice accident prevention and protect public safety.

   Moorhead, 31, is on administrative leave."I'm going to reserve comment until I can meet with the commissioners," he said late last week. He was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide last October and was sentenced to a year in the county jail in January.

   Moorhead will be eligible for work release and has indicated he'd like to continue as a firefighter. But that hinges on what the commissioners decide, and whether he can keep his driver's license.

   According to the charges drawn up by the district's attorney, Moorhead's conviction means he'll lose his driver's license for two years. Both conviction and license revocation have also affected his insurability. Charges say the district's carrier has indicated that he isn't insurable. Both are also conditions of his employment, according to Smith.

   The charges also state:

   In addition, the charges indicate his actions were in violation of the following rules and regulations:   It's the latest chapter in an agonizing tragedy that began 20 months ago. Then, a rising firefighter with officer written on him, got into a wreck.

   Moorhead has disputed the safety of the intersection where the crash occurred in Renton just past midnight June 14, but has acknowledged speeding and running a stop sign. The accident killed Tien Thai, Phu Huynh, and Huu Hoang, three fathers and former South Vietnamese soldiers.

   The incident has brought attention to the district in an unwanted way. Countless headlines have referred to the "Woodinville firefighter." A source describes a division between firefighters over the issue. The pain has been drawn out because district officials waited until after sentencing to address Moorhead's discipline.

   Though Smith wouldn't give a definitive comment on the charges, he said what happens with Moorhead's driver's license is key. He said that Moorhead has asked if it were possible to be demoted from a senior firefighter to a lower grade so he didn't have to drive.

   Another option, a transfer to the Fire Prevention Bureau, would require a license, though, Smith said. "There's just no other positions," he said.

   The fire commissioners have tentatively scheduled a special meeting to consider disciplinary actions against Moorhead at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Station 31. Smith said the board could make a decision that night or take some time to review matters and return with discipline a day or more afterwards.