Ford Crown Victoria investigated after trooper dies in crash
Saturday, December 21, 2002
By Jim Fitzgerald / Associated Press
YONKERS, N.Y. -- A state trooper filling out paperwork on the shoulder of the state Thruway was killed when his cruiser was hit from behind by an out-of-control SUV and both cars burst into flames.
The police car was a Ford Crown Victoria and the fiery crash renewed questions about whether the model, popular in police departments nationwide, is prone to explode when hit at high speeds from behind. Ford agreed three months ago to install gas tank shields in Crown Victoria police cruisers, but the dead trooper's car had not yet been retrofitted.
The driver of the SUV, a Jeep Cherokee that had been involved in another accident moments earlier, also died in Thursday's crash. Capt. Evelyn Mallard said he had been traveling "at a high rate of speed" and with a suspended license.
Six other people -- three young passengers in the Jeep, the drivers of the cars in the fender bender the trooper was writing about, and the tow truck operator who arrived to help them -- were seriously injured.
The dead were identified as Trooper Robert Ambrose, 31, who lived in Pearl River and was assigned to the state police barracks in Tarrytown, and Jason Bonney, 20, of White Plains. Bonney's license had been suspended because he failed to show up in court after a traffic infraction, State Police Capt. Frank Koehler said.
Autopsies were under way to determine whether the men were killed in the crash or by the ensuing flames, but witnesses said they saw the trooper struggling to get out of his crumpled, burning car.
Mike Lepratto, 27, of Yonkers, said he saw a police officer "smacking the window of the (trooper's) car with a shovel, trying to get him out." He said he heard bullets exploding in the cruiser as the flames engulfed the vehicle.
The trooper was not extricated from the wreckage for hours. Police officers snapped to attention and saluted as the body was taken away in a medical examiner's van.
There are about 350,000 Crown Victoria police cars in the country. Some departments have complained that the model is prone to fires when hit from behind at high speed -- Ambrose is the 13th officer to die in such fires since 1983. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in October that the car exceeds federal standards for fuel system safety.
Nevertheless, Ford agreed to pay for the installation of shields around the gas tanks on Crown Victoria police cars.
Koehler said state police cars are taking part in the retrofitting program but Ambrose's vehicle, a 2000 model,had not been done. He said he did not know how many state police cars had been revamped.
Mallard said the NHTSA was sending experts to examine the wrecks for clues to the explosion. Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the car company was sending technicians as well.
The Ford and the Jeep were taken Friday morning to state police headquarters in Poughkeepsie for investigation, Mallard said.
Ambrose, a trooper for five years, was single and was survived by his parents, who live in Floral Park. A funeral is scheduled there for Monday; Gov. George Pataki plans to attend.
Mallard, his superior at the Tarrytown barracks, said Ambrose was "a goodhearted, fun-loving kind of guy ... a pleasure to be around." She described the mood at the barracks as "very mournful."
The chain-reaction crash began at about 8:35 p.m. Thursday near the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers when the Jeep, traveling north, hit a Nissan in the right lane, Mallard said.
The Jeep bounced off the car and veered onto the right shoulder of the Thruway, plowing into the rear of the trooper's cruiser, where Ambrose sat preparing an accident report for a minor collision involving two cars that had pulled off to the side of the road.
The impact from the Jeep triggered a chain reaction involving the police cruiser, the two vehicles from the initial accident and the tow truck. The drivers of the tow truck and the two cars in the earlier accident were standing by their vehicles when they were injured, Mallard said.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....