Cruiser goes crunch


Sun, October 17, 2004


A city cop escaped from his police cruiser after it hit a pole early yesterday and burst into flames, say officials. The officer in an Edmonton Police Service cruiser, a marked Ford Crown Victoria, was travelling near 153 Avenue and Griesbach Road about 3 a.m. when he lost control and hit the pole, authorities said.

"(The impact) ruptured the gas tank and that's when it burned," said city police Insp. John Ratcliff. "There's not much left of it."

The officer suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene.

Ratcliff said that at the time of the crash, the cop had been responding to an officer in distress call, which later turned out to be false. He added he didn't know if the car's emergency lights were on or how fast the cruiser was going.

It was unclear whether the crash was related to weather or road conditions.

Class-action lawsuits are pending in at least 12 U.S. states over the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, a specially-built police cruiser.

Since 1983, at least 15 officers in the U.S. have died in fiery crashes after their Crown Victorias were rear-ended. Ford Motor Co. contends the deaths reflect officers' risky work rather than a design flaw.

On Friday, a jury in Belleville, Illinois, ruled the cars are safe in dismissing one first class-action lawsuit filed in 2002 by the St. Clair County Sheriff's Office and the Centreville police department.

A judge still must decide if the automaker engaged in deceptive trade practices, violated Illinois's consumer-fraud laws and unjustly enriched the company by the fraud.

Ratcliff said although the car involved in yesterday's incident burst into flames, "the impact was such that it would've happened to any vehicle."

Ratcliff said he wasn't aware of any problems with Crown Victorias used by city police.

"I'm in one right now. I feel totally safe in it," said Ratcliff.

Edmonton police Sgt. Peter Kawalilak, president of the Alberta Federation of Police Associations, said the group's membership are comfortable with the cruisers.

"It fits the needs and offers the best police packages available right now," said Kawalilak. "It's a very strong car.

"I've seen Crown Victoria(s) totally squished and been rolled over, but they never burned."