Fatal accident sparks investigation into car

By First Coast News Staff

LAKE CITY, FL - A fatal accident involving a Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy has sparked a statewide investigation into the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

Twenty-four year-old Jeff Davis died on his birthday, 23 hours after his squad car plowed sideways into a tree and burst into flames. Davis was on his way to a call when he swerved to avoid pedestrians and ended up colliding with a tree. According to Pastor Robert Davis, "the fire from the Crown Victoria is what took his life." His father believes that his son's fiery death was preventable had he not been driving the Ford Crown Victoria.

Now family members of Lake City deputies say the car should be taken off the road altogether or at least until the investigation is complete and the cars are made safe. Said Pastor Davis, "We're just concerned about other law enforcement officers who still drive the Crown Victoria."

The Lake City accident is the latest case where a suspected punctured gas tank burst into flames after a rear impact crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there have been thirteen fire related deaths involving Crown Victoria Police Interceptors and seventeen deaths in the civilian version of the Crown Victoria and her sister cars the Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car since 1993.

Safety experts say the gas tank in all pre-2002 models is the problem because it is located behind the rear axle in a crush zone. Clarence Ditlow with the Center for Auto Safety says of the Ford's, "We know the tank is in a bad location. We know there are objects puncturing the trunk in rear speed crashes that are survivable. What we need to do is recall that vehicle."

Because of Davis' death, Florida's head of fleet management issued a memorandum to state law enforcement agencies asking them to temporarily suspend purchase orders for Ford Crown Victoria's until more is known about the cause of the explosions.

Sara Tachio, a spokesperson for Ford, said in regards to the state's purchasing suspension, "We are disappointed in the state's action, but hope they see the work we are doing with our technical task force. We value the state of Florida and have had a good relationship."

Despite the recent incidents Ford stands behind the safety of the Crown Victoria and related models because they point out that the cars exceeds federal guidelines in front and rear collisions. They also note that the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car have a 39-inch crush zone between the rear bumper and fuel tank, which is nearly 14-inches more than some other cars.

Locally more than 1,100 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors are driven by JSO cops and the tanks in more than a 1,000 of them are being modified at the manufacturer's suggestion. Officials with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department say they will continue to purchase Crown Victoria's but that could change when the final investigative report is released in regards to Deputy Davis' crash.