PBA Press Conference & Senate Hearing

PBA Press Conference & Senate Hearing
Board of Directors, 2003-03-12

The PBA held a press conference on Monday afternoon to give the media a preview of testimony for Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors (CVPI).

At the press conference, Phoenix Police Officer Jason Schechterle spoke openly about the extensive burns he received on more than 40 percent of his body when his CVPI was rear-ended and subsequently caught fire nearly two years ago. Trooper George Rought of SP Olean also told the story of how passers-by pulled him, unconscious, out of a burning CVPI in August 2002, and how the State Police Superintendent assured him during a telephone call after the accident that the safety of the CVPIs and the members who drove them were a priority. Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Ambrose, parents of Trooper Robert W. Ambrose, spoke at Tuesday’s Senate hearing about the death of their son in a burning CVPI, four months after Trooper Rought’s accident. Also testifying Tuesday (and talking at the press conference) was PBA President Dan De Federicis.

Reporters from television, radio and newspapers attended Monday’s press conference and Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

The following is the link to a story printed in Tuesday’s edition of the Times Union (Albany):http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=114250&category=REGION&newsdate=3/11/2003

The following is the text of a story printed in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Gazette (Capital Region):

Troopers ask state to press Ford on police car safety; By MARNIE EISENSTADT Gazette Reporter

ALBANY – People stare at Jason Schechterle where ever he goes. He has no hair, his ears are only stubs and his nose is squished into his face.

And that is after 35 surgeries.

But Schechterle flew to Albany from Phoenix, where he is a police officer, and stood tall for the cameras to tell his story. His mission is to make certain that no more people burn alive, trapped in a Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser.

"My anger is with Ford. Nobody should know what I know; look the way I do, or, worse, be burning alive without any other serious injuries," he said. If his police car had not become an inferno in March 2001 when he was rear-ended by a taxi, he would have suffered only two fractured ribs and a bruised lung.

Instead, he suffered extensive fourth-degree burns and nearly died.

Schechterle told his story at a news conference the New York State Police Benevolent Association held Monday to gain attention for the group’s fight to make the Crown Victorias safer. The state Senate Investigations Committee is holding a hearing today on the cars and their potential to burst into flames when hit from behind.

Daniel M. De Federicis, president of the state police union, said troopers want the state to put pressure on Ford to pay for improvements that would make the cars safer.

Shields installed last year to prevent fire when the gas tanks are compromised do not do enough to protect the troopers, he said.

"The onus is on Ford. They have the police market cornered," he said.

De Federicis said the company needs to install special liners inside the gas tanks similar to those used in race cars. These would keep the fuel from spilling out even if the tank was punctured. Troopers also want Ford to put in special fire suppression material that would keep the car from going up in flames if the gas tank is punctured and the gas leaks out.

State Trooper Robert Ambrose died in December 2002 after his Crown Victoria was struck in the rear by a speeding SUV on the Thruway in Yonkers. He burned to death, trapped in the car.

And Trooper George Rought would have died if he hadn’t been pulled from his burning car by nearby civilians. Rought said he was in his Crown Victoria in August when he was hit by a pickup truck towing a trailer. The car burst into flames and he was knocked unconscious, but bystanders pulled him out and he escaped serious injury.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said that the Crown Victorias are the safest police cruiser, by far, on the road.

She said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed an investigation into the Crown Victoria’s potential to explode this past autumn after determining the cars are safe.

But the company offered to install the shield in the cars, anyway, and plans to offer another safety device later this year that would keep police gear stored in the trunk from puncturing the tank.

"We weren’t addressing a deficiency because there wasn’t one," Kinley said. She said the company is investigating the safety technology suggested by the New York troopers, but it is unclear how much benefit they would provide."