CAS Petitions NHTSA to Open Engineering Analysis

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

July 22, 2002

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
400 7th Street SW
Washington DC 20590


Dear Dr. Runge:

The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) petitions NHTSA to investigate as a
public Engineering Analysis all fuel-fed crash fires in 1992-01 Crown
Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car regardless of the
source or direction of the impact. At present, NHTSA is conducting a non-public
Service Query (SQ) 01-014 limited to fires and
fuel leaks "resulting from a vehicle-to-vehicle, rear biased collision
where the target vehicle is a subject vehicle [1992-01 Crown Victoria,
Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car].1

CAS has identified 75 fatal fire crashes in the subject vehicles including
32 burn deaths based on FARS identifying fire as the Most Harmful Event
(MHE), litigation records, accident reports, death certificates and autopsy
reports. (Attachment A.) Under the Freedom
of Information Act, CAS obtained FARS runs for MHE crash fires in the
subject vehicles and all other crash fires. (Attachments B and C.) A search
of FARS on NHTSA’s Website turned up a 68th FARS crash which has fire
as MHE. (Attachment D.)

A substantial number of these cases do not fit the narrow scope defined
by NHTSA in SQO1-014. For example, 8 of 51 non-fire MHE cases list a tree,
building, overturn or bridge abutment as the cause which would not fit
NHTSA’s narrow definition. Looking at the cases where fire is the cause
of death or Most Harmful, CAS has identified many which are not covered
by the investigation.

For example, Cpl. John Bagileo of Prince George’s County MD Police Department
is a FARS fire MHE. According to the enclosed March 2, 1994 Washington
Post article, Cpl. Bagileo went off the road and hit a utility pole which
caused his 1993 Crown Victoria to burst into flames. (Attachment
.) In another FARS fire MHE case, Deputy Allen Heirtzler of East
Feliciana Parish LA hit a stray calf and then struck a utility pole before
his 1995 Crown Victoria burst into flames. Rescuers said, "He finally
told us to tell his mom and dad he loved them." (Attachment F.) In
a non-FARS case, Officer Jefferson Davis of Columbia County FL burned
to death in his 1999 or 2000 Crown Victoria when he swerved to avoid three
pedestrians and hit a pine tree on May 30, 2002. (Attachment
G.) In another non-FARS case, 3 young men who were rear seat passengers
in a 1994 Crown Victoria burned to death when their vehicle went off the
road and spun around to strike a tree. (Attachment H.)

This is not an exhaustive examination because CAS does not have access
to records for all of the crashes. However, it clearly shows a significant
number of Crown Victoria crash fire burn deaths occurring outside the
scope of SQ01-014. In addition, materials produced in litigation indicate
Ford increased the thickness of the tank to make it more "robust."
This suggests the tank is not strong enough to resist rupture from an
impact regardless of whether it was a tree or a car.

In view of the fire deaths in impacts outside the scope of the investigation
but affecting the 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln
Town Car covered by the investigation, NHTSA is requested to grant this
petition and expand the scope to cover all fuel-fed fire crashes in the
subject vehicles as a public Engineering Analysis.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

1 Service Queries are non-public because they do not appear
on NHTSA’s monthly list of defect investigations posted on the Web and
their files are not made publicly available through the Technical Information
Service as are Preliminary Evaluations which NHTSA
staff recommended be opened on June 5, 2001 but which was never done
after Ford met behind closed doors with NHTSA staff
on June 29.