By ALEX BRANCH
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH — A 34-year-old Fort Worth police officer with two young daughters died early Sunday when his patrol car was rear-ended and burst into flames along Interstate 35W.
Officer Dwayne Freeto was pronounced dead at the scene. He had responded to a stranded motorist call on southbound I-35W at Morningside Drive around 3:45 a.m.
Investigators said the 21-year-old driver of a Lexus, believed to be a Fort Worth man, slammed into the rear of Freeto’s patrol car at high speed. Police said they believe that alcohol also might have been a factor.
Freeto was trapped inside his burning car, a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria parked on the outside shoulder of the interstate, with lights flashing.
A bystander and an off-duty Fort Worth police officer tried to rescue him but said the fire was too intense, said Lt. Dean Sullivan, a Fort Worth police spokesman.
The Crown Victoria has a troubled history of fiery rear-end collisions, but Sullivan said it was too early to tell where and how the fire started.
The initial invesigation found that Freeto’s car was equipped with a fire-safety shield provided by Ford beginning in 2003.
Freeto, a U.S. Army veteran, graduated from the Fort Worth Police Academy less than 10 months ago. He leaves behind a wife, Karen, and two daughters, ages 3 and 9.
Freeto had stopped to help a woman in a BMW change a tire. A man in a Dodge pickup had also stopped to help.
The impact from the Lexus started a chain reaction, forcing the patrol car into the BMW, which then struck the pickup.
The patrol car and Lexus burst into flames, he said.
"The impact into the officer’s car was such that it forced everything forward and pinned the officer in his seat," Sullivan said.
The pickup driver burned his hands trying to rescue the officer, Sullivan said.
The Lexus driver suffered severe burns and was taken by helicopter ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
Blood was drawn at the hospital to determine if alcohol was a factor, Sullivan said.
His condition was unavailable.
"From the evidence and wreckage, it appears that speed played a part in this," Sullivan said.
Neither the driver of the pickup nor BMW driver suffered serious injuries.
Freeto was assigned to the Fort Worth Police Department’s South Division, Neighborhood Policing District No. 8.
He is the 51st Fort Worth police officer killed in the line of duty since 1877.
His death comes just more than a year after Fort Worth police officer Hank Nava was shot and killed while serving a warrant at a home.
"Today, our city once again mourns for the loss of a member of the Fort Worth family," Mayor Mike Moncrief said Sunday morning. "Christmas is supposed to be a time of celebration, a time of giving, appreciation and reflection.
"It shouldn’t be a time for mourning and loss.
"Right now our thoughts and prayers are with the family."