TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A woman under arrest on suspicion of drunken driving was fatally burned Wednesday when a car slammed into the back of a parked Arizona highway patrol cruiser in which she was seated, igniting both vehicles and another cruiser in front, authorities said.
Lt. James Warriner, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman, said both DPS Ford Crown Victoria police interceptors were equipped with fire suppression systems that deployed, according to a preliminary investigation.
An officer stopped the woman at about 1:15 a.m. and eventually arrested her and sat her in the back of the rearmost DPS sedan at the scene along Interstate 10 northwest of Tucson, Warriner said.
Another westbound car traveling at least 65 mph then drifted into the emergency lane and plowed into the back of that vehicle, Warriner said.
“Both officers were outside of their vehicle and they heard or saw the (third) vehicle hit the rumble strips (along the edge of the outside lane) and they jumped over the guard rail to avoid the impact,” Warriner said.
He said the cruiser ignited instantly, and the officers were unable to rescue the woman inside because of the intensity and heat of the fire.
Authorities identified the victim, who died at the scene, as Faith M. Mascolino, 45, of Tucson.
Warriner said the crash impact pushed the first cruiser’s trunk into its back seat, and the velocity was such that that cruiser was rammed into the patrol car in front of it, severely damaging its rear end as well.
The second cruiser continued the chain reaction, striking Mascolino’s parked vehicle.
The officers were able to remove the driver of the moving car, which vaulted over the guard rail and sustained fire and crash damage, Warriner said.
He said the driver — identified as Robert H. Gallivan, 28, of Tucson — was taken to an area hospital with undetermined injuries.
There have been no charges, with the investigation continuing, Warriner said.
Over the past decade, Crown Victorias were the subject of significant controversy and lawsuits over numerous rear-end collisions that ruptured fuel tanks and caused horrific fires, killing or disfiguring a number of police officers and others.
Warriner said investigators are looking into why the gas tank exploded, and that the investigation will be extremely technical.
He described the fire suppression system, which Ford has installed in its Crown Victorias since 2005, as a powder-emitting device designed to suppress fire. But he said he thinks the sheer speed of the crash likely ruptured the cruiser’s fuel tank.
Ford Motor Co., which manufactures the cruisers, likely would send a team of engineers to examine the wreckage and try to determine the cause too, Warriner said.