By ROBERT THARP and TONY HARTZEL / The Dallas Morning News
An off-duty Dallas police officer working traffic control in an overnight freeway construction zone died in his flaming patrol car early Wednesday after being struck by what police called a speeding drunken driver.
Officer Patrick Metzler, 31, was at the wheel of a police cruiser that was slammed into from behind just after 1 a.m. in the closed right lane in the High Five construction area where Central Expressway intersects with LBJ Freeway.
Officer Metzler, an eight-year veteran, died of smoke inhalation and burns, the Dallas County medical examiner said, after the back half of his car was crushed and the vehicle exploded in flames on the expressway’s right shoulder. Some of his colleagues from a gang unit witnessed the crash but were powerless to save the officer, police said.
The fatality raised questions as to whether two other factors contributed to the officer’s death â€“ lane-closing procedures used at overnight freeway construction sites and the gas tank on the Ford Crown Victoria squad car, a popular law enforcement model criticized as prone to catch fire in high-speed, rear-end crashes.
Jeffrey Goddard, 23, the driver of a 1994 Jeep Wrangler that hit the officer’s vehicle, was arrested for investigation of intoxication manslaughter and remained hospitalized Wednesday for treatment of a broken hip.
A test showed that Mr. Goddard’s blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, police commanders said.
Mr. Goddard, who was released from state prison seven months ago after serving a one-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance, was under police guard at the hospital.
A passenger in the Jeep wasn’t seriously injured, won’t face criminal charges and has not been publicly identified. The passenger told police that the two had been drinking at an Old East Dallas bar.
Witnesses said Mr. Goddard was speeding on northbound Central and weaving across lanes as he approached the construction site just north of the Forest Lane exit.