Ford Misleading on Safety of Police Cars, City Says

Automaker says fuel shields weren't meant to prevent leakage
03/01/2003
By TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson accused Ford Motor Co. on Friday of misleading the public into believing that installing protective shields around the Crown Victoria police car's fuel tank would make it safer.

The Dallas Police Department has retrofitted more than 700 cars with the shields.

"Instead of the success Ford claimed it was, the crash test obviously was an abject failure and calls seriously into question Ford's claims that the new fuel tank shields are enough to solve Crown Vic fuel tank safety problems," she said.

Ms. Johnson said Ford did not reveal that during crash testing there had been 40 ounces of leakage. Federal standards set the limit at 1 ounce, Ms. Johnson said.

The city is suing the automaker in an effort to determine whether the popular police cruiser is safe for law enforcement after the October death of a Dallas police officer.

City officials learned about the leakage during deposition testimony taken from Ford officials in conjunction with class-action lawsuits before a Cleveland federal court.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said Friday that shields were not intended to prevent leakage but to prevent punctures to the fuel tank.

"We've been very open and honest about what these shields were intended to do," she said. "These tanks were intended to reduce the risk of a fuel tank puncture in the event of a high-speed, rear-end crash."

She reiterated the company's position that the Crown Victoria is a safe vehicle for police use. Ford officials have cited a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation report that concluded there was no defect in the vehicle's fuel tank design.

At least 14 law enforcement officers nationwide have died from fuel-fed fires in Crown Victoria rear-end collisions.

The parents of Dallas police Officer Patrick Metzler filed suit against Ford last week, accusing the company of negligence in their son's death and contending that he would have survived the fiery crash if a protective shield had been installed around the car's gas tank.

Officer Metzler, an eight-year police veteran, died Oct. 23 while working traffic control . His squad car was struck from behind by a speeding vehicle driven by Jeffrey Goddard of Dallas. The squad car burst into flames, and Officer Metzler, 31, died at the scene.

Mr. Goddard pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 15-year prison term.