CAS Petitions NHTSA to Open Engineering Analysis

July 22, 2002

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
400 7th Street SW
Washington DC 20590


Dear Dr. Runge:

The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) petitions NHTSA to investigate as a public Engineering Analysis all fuel-fed crash fires in 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car regardless of the source or direction of the impact. At present, NHTSA is conducting a non-public Service Query (SQ) 01-014 limited to fires and fuel leaks "resulting from a vehicle-to-vehicle, rear biased collision where the target vehicle is a subject vehicle [1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car].1

CAS has identified 75 fatal fire crashes in the subject vehicles including 32 burn deaths based on FARS identifying fire as the Most Harmful Event (MHE), litigation records, accident reports, death certificates and autopsy reports. (Attachment A.) Under the Freedom of Information Act, CAS obtained FARS runs for MHE crash fires in the subject vehicles and all other crash fires. (Attachments B and C.) A search of FARS on NHTSA's Website turned up a 68th FARS crash which has fire as MHE. (Attachment D.)

A substantial number of these cases do not fit the narrow scope defined by NHTSA in SQO1-014. For example, 8 of 51 non-fire MHE cases list a tree, building, overturn or bridge abutment as the cause which would not fit NHTSA's narrow definition. Looking at the cases where fire is the cause of death or Most Harmful, CAS has identified many which are not covered by the investigation.

For example, Cpl. John Bagileo of Prince George's County MD Police Department is a FARS fire MHE. According to the enclosed March 2, 1994 Washington Post article, Cpl. Bagileo went off the road and hit a utility pole which caused his 1993 Crown Victoria to burst into flames. (Attachment E.) In another FARS fire MHE case, Deputy Allen Heirtzler of East Feliciana Parish LA hit a stray calf and then struck a utility pole before his 1995 Crown Victoria burst into flames. Rescuers said, "He finally told us to tell his mom and dad he loved them." (Attachment F.) In a non-FARS case, Officer Jefferson Davis of Columbia County FL burned to death in his 1999 or 2000 Crown Victoria when he swerved to avoid three pedestrians and hit a pine tree on May 30, 2002. (Attachment G.) In another non-FARS case, 3 young men who were rear seat passengers in a 1994 Crown Victoria burned to death when their vehicle went off the road and spun around to strike a tree. (Attachment H.)

This is not an exhaustive examination because CAS does not have access to records for all of the crashes. However, it clearly shows a significant number of Crown Victoria crash fire burn deaths occurring outside the scope of SQ01-014. In addition, materials produced in litigation indicate Ford increased the thickness of the tank to make it more "robust." This suggests the tank is not strong enough to resist rupture from an impact regardless of whether it was a tree or a car.

In view of the fire deaths in impacts outside the scope of the investigation but affecting the 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car covered by the investigation, NHTSA is requested to grant this petition and expand the scope to cover all fuel-fed fire crashes in the subject vehicles as a public Engineering Analysis.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

1 Service Queries are non-public because they do not appear on NHTSA's monthly list of defect investigations posted on the Web and their files are not made publicly available through the Technical Information Service as are Preliminary Evaluations which NHTSA staff recommended be opened on June 5, 2001 but which was never done after Ford met behind closed doors with NHTSA staff on June 29.