By JIM FITZGERALD
Associated Press Writer
February 14, 2003, 1:41 PM EST
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The family of a state trooper who was killed when his Crown Victoria cruiser was hit from behind sued the Ford Motor Co. Friday for more than $250 million, alleging negligence in the manufacture of the nation’s most popular police car.
Trooper Robert Ambrose’s family also sued the mother of the man who was killed when his Jeep hit Ambrose’s car; the driver of the Nissan car that collided with the Jeep seconds earlier; and the leasing companies that owned those cars. They also announced plans to sue New York state and the state Thruway Authority, which owned the trooper’s car.
"We just don’t want this to happen to any other person, especially the police officers, these guys who are in this situation everyday," said Wayne Ambrose of Floral Park, the dead trooper’s father. "What we’ve gone through, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through."
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the company believes the Crown Victoria "is a safe vehicle," but could not comment on the Ambrose lawsuit specifically until Ford lawyers have time to review it.
On the night of Dec. 19, Robert Ambrose was in his car, stopped on the northbound shoulder of the state Thruway in Yonkers, writing a report on a minor collision. Behind him, the Jeep and the Nissan collided and the Jeep veered onto the shoulder and plowed into the police car. The impact ignited a fire and triggered a chain reaction also involving the two vehicles from the initial accident and a tow truck. Ambrose and the Jeep driver, 20-year-old Jason Boney, were killed, and one of the drivers involved in the first collision died two days later. Flames prevented rescuers from reaching Ambrose and he died of smoke inhalation.
Police said the Jeep was "traveling at a high rate of speed." Ambrose’s family said Friday that police also told them Boney was legally drunk. The lawsuit alleges that Boney’s mother knew or should have known he was drunk when she entrusted him with the Jeep.
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, 31, of Pearl River, was 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. Robert Ambrose’s car had not been retrofitted.
"This retrofit they’re talking about is really just a Band-Aid," Wayne Ambrose said.
The family’s lawyer, Henry Miller, said that when a Crown Victoria police car is hit from behind, its fuel tank can be pushed forward into the rear axle and punctured, releasing gasoline or gasoline vapors that can be ignited.
"What makes this problem especially perilous is that police cars are known to be involved in this kind of collision more than others because they’re pulling people over," he said.
Miller explained the claim for $250 million in punitive damages by saying that because of Ford’s size, it had to be big enough "to catch their attention." In addition, $11 million was claimed for the trooper’s death and pain and suffering. The lawsuit was filed in state court in Manhattan, where Ford has a corporate office.
The trooper’s mother, Evelyn Ambrose, said Robert Ambrose "was my firstborn and we had great hopes for him. … He was so proud when he got appointed to the state troopers."