Deputy's Crown Victoria explosion raises questions

By Dan Lauck / 11 News KHOU-TV

A fiery crash could raise more safety questions about the controversial Crown Victoria police cruiser after a Fort Bend County deputy watched his vehicle go up in flames.

It exploded after a high-speed rear-end collision this weekend on Highway 6 near Bissonnet.

Pictures are reminiscent of past problems with the popular police cruiser.

"You'd think with red lights flashing all over, the guy would have seen it," says Sid McArthur.

The dashboard and the steering wheel are missing. The seats have burned down to their black, sooty shells. And all those plastic polys that make up most of a car's interior have burned and blown away.

That is what's left of a Ford Crown Victoria once it's been rear-ended and charbroiled.

For two long and tragic years, a flaw in the design of the Crown Victoria, which allowed bolts to puncture the gas tank when rear-ended, cost dozens of officers their lives.

Sid McArthur says Ford fixed the problem in 2004.

"They've added this rubber insulator here," he says, with a series of steps that essentially put the gas tank in a car seat.

"Their stance is that the 35 mph crash test, it'll survive," says McArthur.

But what if there's a crash at 65 mph.

"At that speed, 65 mph, something's gotta give," says Milton Wright, the Fort Bend County Sheriff. "I suspect any model car, in that condition, would have exploded."

All that's left is a collage of broken glass, a few papers and plastic parts. It was in the middle of three southbound lanes on Highway 6.

That's where the first car stalled out. The deputy pulled up behind him, turned on his lights to give the man some cover.

And thank God for that.

"In this case we were lucky," says Milton, no one was inside. "I don't think if anybody had been in there, that they could have opened this door."

More than a dozen law enforcement officers nationwide have been killed in fiery crashes in Crown Victorias since 1983.

Texas joined at least 12 other states in a suit against Ford on behalf of police departments. But Texas dropped its suit last fall after an Illinois jury ruled Ford was not to blame for fiery collisions involving its Crown Victoria police cars.