Firefighter inmates' kids won't get death benefits
Date:Sunday, October 13 @ 00:00:30 MDT
Topic:Valley and State

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The children of two Utah State Prison inmates who died fighting a 2000 wildfire in Tooele County have once again been denied death benefits by the federal government.

A U.S. Department of Justice administrative hearing officer last month denied theappeal filed on behalf of 12-year-old Natasha Whittaker and 5-year-old Raymond Braithwaite.

Whittaker's father, Michael Todd Bishop, 27, died Aug. 23, 2000, along with 26-year-old Rodgie Braithwaite. The two were members of the prison's Flame-In-Go inmate firefighter program, which is overseen by the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Bishop and Braithwaite were fighting a fire in the Stansbury Mountains and were struck by a bolt of lightning as they sought shelter from a storm.

Bishop's family applied for $147,000 in federal insurance benefits, typically given to relatives of firefighters who die in the line of duty. Braithwaite's family, who lives in Nevada, later joined them in their quest.

But the government says inmates are ineligible for those funds because they cannot be classified as public safety officers, despite the fact Bishop and Braithwaite were federally certified firefighters. A Justice Department spokeswoman said last year no prison firefighter's relatives has ever been granted the insurance money.

The families' attorney, William Hadley of Holladay, is filing a final appeal with the Justice Department. If that claim is denied, he said Wednesday, he likely will tell the families not to pursue the matter further.

"The law, as it's written right now -- there's not much we can do," he said. "The state law and the federal law are against us."