Fox News Channel has been sued for accidentally airing a man's suicide while broadcasting a low-speed car chase in Arizona last fall, The Hollywood Reporter reports.
Angela Rodriguez, the mother of the deceased JoDon Romero's three sons, aged 9, 13, and 15, filed a complaint stating that their children suffered extreme emotional distress after seeing the video of their father's death online. Rodriguez named News Corp., Fox Entertainment and Fox News Network as plaintiffs, and seeks unspecified damages "to the extent permitted by law."
On Sept. 28, 2012, the network followed a carjacker as he attempted to evade police. After Romero exited the car, the cameras followed as he ran erratically down a dirt road before pulling a gun from his pocket and shooting himself in the head. As soon as Romero reached for the gun, anchor Shepard Smith began crying for the control room to cut away, repeatedly insisting, "Get off, get off, get off."
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While the Phoenix Fox News affiliate's five-second delay was in place, preventing local viewers from witnessing the suicide, the footage was broadcast live in the majority of other markets. Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of Fox News, later issued a statement saying that "this mistake was the result of a severe human error."
Immediately following the incident, Smith apologized for the broadcast, explaining: "We created a five-second delay as if you were to bleep back your DVR five seconds ... so that we would see in the studio five seconds before you did. So that if anything went horribly wrong, we'd be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it. And we really messed up. And we're all very sorry. That didn't belong on TV. We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV, and I personally apologize to you that that happened."
Romero's three sons were at school during the incident, but rumors of the suicide "generated considerable buzz among the students at the school, particularly with respect to the two older boys," the complaint reads. "After school, the older boys went home and began looking for the suicide on the Internet," the complaint continues. Upon watching the broadcast on YouTube, "they realized in horror that they were watching their father."
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According to the suit, the two older sons have not returned to school since and demonstrate "symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that included flashbacks, repeated thoughts and feelings associated with viewing the video of their father shooting himself in the head, re-experiencing trauma, sleep disturbance, and intrusive thoughts."
"This psychological trauma is substantial and long-term. It will, upon information and belief, require long-term psychiatric and/or psychological treatment," Joel Robbins and Anne Findling, the Romero family's attorneys, added.
A spokesperson for Fox said, "We can't comment on pending litigation."