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June 05, 2024

On the night of December 20, 2008, our department suffered an unbelievable tragedy which resulted in the Line of Duty Death of Firefighter Michelle Smith.  While operating at the scene of a motorcycle crash and tending to the injured rider, Michelle and the rider were struck by a vehicle operated by Joseph M. Taye, Jr., a paraplegic who was driving a BMW with a stick following a night out at a bar.  The impact sent Michelle’s body flying with Taye fleeing the scene with the assistance of a still not identified individual.  Justice was served when Taye was sentenced to life in prison plus 26 years.  The additional time of 26 years came from assault charges related to Taye striking and further injuring the motorcyclist, Edward Reiss, and Taye fleeing after the accident.  To read more:

“Deputy Attorney General Sean Lugg told the judge that Taye "earned" his life sentence through his selfish, reckless actions in a quest for immediate gratification. He said Taye chose to ignore his own children -- who were visiting him that weekend -- to go out to a go-go bar with a friend. He chose to drive himself there -- using a stick rather than getting the proper equipment for his car or proper training. He chose not to ride with that friend. And then he chose to drive himself home, where he chose to drive at a high rate of speed, chose what lane to drive in and chose to pass the fire truck.  The judge also noted that no one has ever identified the person who picked Taye up after the accident and helped him flee the scene… And despite presiding over thousands of trials, Herlihy said nothing has stuck with him like the vivid, eyewitness testimony about what happened to Smith's body after it was struck.”

We were notified by Michelle’s mother that the individual who killed Michelle has requested a hearing by the State of Delaware’s Pardon Board and his case will be heard administratively on June 27th to see if his case is moving to an open hearing or being denied.  When we first heard of this last year, a letter writing campaign was started with letters requesting denial of his pardon and continuance of his life sentencehis life sentence plus 26 years being sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Parole Board Members.  Letters were sent to all New Castle County Fire Companies, New Castle County, Kent County, Sussex County Fire Service Associations as well as all the Delaware State Fire Service Associations joining Delaware City Fire Company and Ladies Auxiliary in requesting denial on any possible parole or pardon.  Not only did the Delaware Fire Service step up but so many other people that knew both Michelle and the motorcyclist supported the cause by sending letters.  Justice was served and this individual should spend the rest of his life in prison.  We would be deeply indebted if you could support the efforts of Michelle’s Family and contact the State Board of Pardons Committee Members to request that the Pardon request of Jospeh Taye be DENIED.

The Board of Pardons may be contacted by phone at (302)739-4111, Option 2, by e-mail at, or by using the State of Delaware Contact Form.

You may also contact the members of the Board of Pardons directly:

The Honorable Bethany Hall-Long, Lieutenant Governor, President 302-577-8787

The Honorable Jeffrey W. Bullock, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Board 302-577-8767

The Honorable Kathaleen St. J. McCormick, Chancellor of Court of Chancery, Member 302-255-0527

The Honorable Colleen C. Davis, State Treasurer, Member 302-672-6700

The Honorable Lydia York, Auditor of Accounts, Member 302-739-4241