By Sean Kelly
Denver Post Staff Writer
Post / Kathryn Scott Osler
Arnold Wheat examines the remains Monday of a semi-truck that police said smashed into a parked police car as a tow truck prepared to take away a pickup, pinning the tow-truck operator against the pickup. He is in serious condition. Wheat works for the semi’s owner.
A Northglenn police cruiser on a DUI stop turned into a rolling fireball on Interstate 25 early Monday when rear-ended by a semi, causing a four-vehicle pileup that left one man seriously injured, officials said.
Tow-truck driver William Bruner, 61, was pinned between the burning Ford Crown Victoria and the DUI suspect's pickup at 2:50 a.m. on northbound I-25 just south of 104th Avenue.
The wreckage set Bruner on fire. Two Northglenn police officers used their jackets to smother the flames, Sgt. Eric Guenther said.
Bruner was in serious condition late Monday at Denver Health Medical Center.
The truck narrowly missed two police officers.
"It was a matter of seconds, I guess," Guenther said.
The semi-truck driver, identified as Lewis Lee Curnutte, 23, had to be extricated from his vehicle. He faces charges of vehicular assault and reckless driving, police said.
The fiery accident echoes others in which police cars have exploded after high-speed rear-end collisions. Since 1983, at least 14 officers nationwide have been killed when fuel tanks caught fire in such collisions.
The Dallas department has sued Ford Motor Co., alleging Crown Victoria Police Interceptors are likely to catch fire in such crashes.
Ford and government safety officials say the vehicle meets all federal standards, but the company has offered retrofit kits to lessen the probability of a fire.
Some departments have shields on their gas tanks, but Guenther said he was unaware of any recent work done on Northglenn's cars. Northglenn police have had no problems with their "Crown Vics," Guenther said, but their inquiry will try to determine exactly why the car exploded.
He said Northglenn police pulled over a suspected drunken driver at 2:12 a.m. The driver, who was not identified, was arrested and taken to police headquarters, leaving his pickup on the shoulder of the road.
Officers Adrienne Simpkins and Chet Johnston remained at the scene, parking their patrol car with its emergency lights on in the far right lane behind the suspect's pickup as Bruner, the tow-truck operator, prepared to haul off the vehicle.
At 2:50 a.m., Johnston saw an 18- wheeler headed toward the patrol car, according to Guenther. He yelled at Simpkins to get out of the way.
Simpkins, a new officer working her first shift, narrowly escaped, police said.
The semi collided with the back of the patrol car, sending it careening into Bruner and the pickup. The cruiser exploded and caught fire.
The 18-wheeler continued on for about 300 feet and split open on the shoulder. It was going at least 55 mph when it hit the police car, Guenther estimated.
The northbound lanes of I-25 were closed nearly eight hours, leading to a long morning commute.
Anyone who saw the accident is asked to call Northglenn police Sgt. Steve Sanders at 303-450-8892.
Staff writer John Ingold contributed to this report.
Staff writer Sean Kelly can be reached at 303-820-1858 or firstname.lastname@example.org