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Old 04-08-2004, 03:11   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Crown Vic cleared in fiery crash

Feds rule gas tank was not to blame in death of trooper

By Jim Suhr / Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — The gas tank of a Missouri state highway patrolman’s Ford Crown Victoria was not to blame when the cruiser burst into flames last year after being slammed from behind during an Interstate 70 traffic stop, killing the law enforcer, federal investigators have ruled.

Virtually any type of vehicle struck from behind at high speeds could have suffered damage similar to that sustained by Trooper Michael Newton’s cruiser, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

The gas tanks in Crown Victorias have been scrutinized in recent years after a number of fiery wrecks that killed law enforcers, but NHTSA said the gas tank of Newton’s vehicle was not compromised in the collision.

“There wasn’t any evidence of a safety-related defect,” Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said Wednesday.

Newton, 25, had pulled over a Kansas driver on Interstate 70 near Odessa in western Missouri and was parked along the highway’s eastbound shoulder on May 22, 2003, when his car was hit from behind by a Ford F-350 truck driven by Paul Daniel of New Hampton.

Flames engulfed the patrol car and killed the trapped Newton, whose door was wedged shut by the crash’s impact, federal investigators said.

The investigator’s report said the fire began after something still unknown ignited gasoline that apparently spewed from the vehicle’s filler tube, which was severed in the crash.

The filler tube — the channel where gasoline is pumped into the gas tank during refueling — could have become disconnected in any type of vehicle struck from behind at that speed, the investigators concluded.

Ford Motor Co. has defended the Crown Victoria’s safety and embraced the latest NHTSA report as affirmation.

“NHTSA is confirming what we’ve been trying to say all along — the Crown Victoria is just as safe if not safer than the comparable competitor,” Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said.

A lawsuit filed by Newton’s family claimed the location of the Crown Victoria’s fuel tank was partly to blame for the car igniting.

In recent years, police and safety groups have questioned the safety of Crown Victoria gas tanks, given crash-related fires blamed in the deaths of at least a dozen officers nationwide since 1983.
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