New York State Trooper Killed by Fire

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(Original publication: December 21, 2002)

The driver of a Jeep Grand Cherokee that slammed into a police cruiser Thursday in Yonkers, killing a state trooper, was driving with a suspended license, state police said yesterday.

Jason Boney, 20, of Greenburgh had lost his driving privileges for previous violations when he rear-ended a police cruiser around 8:35 p.m. Thursday on the New York State Thruway, triggering a chain-reaction crash that killed Trooper Robert W. Ambrose, 31, of Pearl River and injured six others. Boney also died in the crash.

Investigator Joseph Becerra of the Hawthorne barracks said police are looking at excessive speed on Boney’s part as a likely contributor. The six others hurt in the crash remained hospitalized last night at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

Ambrose, a five-year state police veteran, was investigating a minor two-car accident when his Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor was struck by Boney’s 2002 Jeep and burst into flames. Several passing motorists tried unsuccessfully to free Ambrose, who was parked on the northbound shoulder near Exit 4. Becerra asked any witnesses to call him at 914-769-2653.

Boney was driving in the middle lane of the three-lane road when he struck a 2000 Nissan driven by Steve Craft, 50, of Plainview, Long Island, state police said. Boney then apparently lost control of his Jeep, which swerved to the right and slammed into the parked cruiser. Craft was not hurt. The impact pushed the cruiser forward into two cars in front of it that had been involved in the minor accident: a 1990 Ford Contour driven by Stephen Burke, 61, of Scarsdale, and a 1997 Toyota driven by John Harayda, 50, of New Rochelle.

Burke and Harayda were sitting in their cars, while tow-truck operator Jack Rogowsky, 31, of Yonkers stood outside the vehicles, preparing to tow one of the cars. Rogowsky works for City Towing in Yonkers. Burke, Harayda and Rogowsky were listed in critical condition yesterday at the Westchester Medical Center. Three people in the Jeep — Tarik Taylor, 18, Jason Turnbull, 17, both of White Plains, and Wayne Penn, 20, of Elmsford — also suffered serious injuries and were taken to Westchester Medical, police said. Their families declined to authorize the hospital to release information on their conditions.

The Ford Police Interceptor is the subject of several lawsuits, including a class action filed in Texas this year, that allege the car’s gas tank bursts into flames when the vehicle is struck from behind.

New York State Police have been retrofitting their Police Interceptors with protective shielding near the gas tank to try to prevent such explosions, but Ambrose’s cruiser did not have the shield, police said.

Gov. George Pataki called Ambrose’s death “a painful reminder of how New York’s courageous law-enforcement officials place their lives on the line every day to protect our safety and security.” Autopsies showed that Ambrose died of carbon monoxide inhalation, internal injuries and severe burns to his body. Boney died of internal injuries.

The Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home of Floral Park in Queens is handling arrangements for Ambrose. Calling hours are from 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow. The funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Our Lady of Victory Church, 1 Floral Parkway, Floral Park.