Ford Admits That Crown Vic Failed Crash Test; Dallas Official Questions Why Ford Can Provide Safer Technology to Civilian 'Protection' Car, but Not To Police

DALLAS, Feb. 28 -- The following press release is being issued by the Dallas City Attorney's Office:

Ford Motor Company officials have admitted in sworn testimony that a Crown Victoria police car equipped with new fuel tank safety shields actually flunked its own crash test.

This disclosure and others were made today by Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson, who is suing Ford in an attempt to discover whether Ford's popular police cruiser is safe. Fourteen law enforcement officers have died in Crown Victoria fuel-fed fires after being rear-ended at high speeds.

Ford announced on September 27 that it would install fuel tank shields on some 350,000 Crown Victoria police cars, touting a crash test that it claimed showed the shields to be effective at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. A Ford official acknowledged in a deposition taken last month, however, that the crash-tested tank actually leaked more than 40 ounces of a fuel substitute known as Stoddard. Federal standards limit fuel tank leaks in crash tests to no more than one ounce.

"Instead of the success that Ford claimed, the crash test was an abject failure and seriously calls into question Ford's claims that the new fuel tank shields are enough to solve Crown Vic fuel tank safety problems," Johnson said.

Johnson emphasized that even small fuel tank punctures can touch off fiery explosions since the fuel is expelled under pressure in the form of an aerosol-like mist and quickly forms a vapor cloud that engulfs the vehicle.

"We are all too familiar with this kind of tragedy -- we recently lost a member of our own family this way," Johnson said, referring to the death of Dallas Police Officer Patrick Metzler on October 23 after his cruiser exploded when it was rear-ended.

Dallas patrol cars have been equipped with the new shields, which obviously offer some protection from fuel tank puncture, Johnson noted. "But I will continue to press for answers from Ford officials about why they persisted with the shield 'fix' in light of the shield's failure to withstand impacts at high speeds, as well as why they have rejected other technologies offering greater protection," Johnson said.

For example, Johnson noted, Ford has announced that it will begin production soon of a $140,000 Lincoln Town Car with a fuel tank that self- seals if punctured. The new Lincoln "Ballistic Protection Series" is designed to resist high-powered rifles and offer limited bomb-blast protection. It has been in development for about two years, according to Ford.

This same technology was presented to a Ford technical task force last summer as a possible guard against Crown Victoria police car fuel tank punctures. It was rejected as not being production-ready, according to Ford documents and testimony.

"If this technology is now available -- and, clearly, it has been for some time -- why hasn't Ford offered this protection to police officers?" said Johnson. "As the leader in the police vehicle market, Ford has a big responsibility to say to law enforcement 'Your cars are as safe -- or safer -- than any other vehicle we make.'"

Johnson also raised concerns about Ford's promise of special trunk packs for police vehicles to guard against heavy objects that might be propelled through the trunk and into the fuel tank in a rear-end collision. Johnson said Ford announced just today that it will produce only 12,500 of the safety packs every year, although there are about 300,000 affected vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, there still is no delivery date for the packs, which were promised by the end of 2002, she noted.

Until the packs become available, Johnson advised law enforcement agencies to remove hard objects or long rigid objects, such as universal four-armed lug wrenches, from their trunks. Only last month, a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle operating in Bee County suffered a tank puncture when the corner of a videotape mounting bracket punctured the tank.

"It is shocking to learn that the tank, as designed, can be punctured by ordinary radios and electronic equipment," Johnson said. "Currently, we are trying to find out whether the trunk pack will accommodate this necessary police equipment."

The deaths of Officer Robert Smith of Florida in 1997, Officer Hung Le of Louisiana in 1998, and Officer Skip Fink of Arizona in 2000 all involved Crown Victoria fuel tanks that exploded after being punctured by items in the vehicles' trunks.

Johnson said depositions also revealed that the trunk packs, which include a Kevlar sheet, will cost $210 each -- four times Ford's original estimate. Ford has indicated that it does not intend to pay for the trunk packs, but that law enforcement agencies must cover expense, instead.

"Ford is obligated to provide trunk safety kits to police agencies free of charge, and we will continue to press Ford on this issue," Johnson said.

Ford has claimed repeatedly that the technology does not exist to protect fuel tanks from punctures or leaks in high-speed, rear end crashes. Johnson said that depositions have confirmed that Ford has refused consistently to adopt fuel tank safety technology that is readily available from numerous sources. The Crown Victoria, which was manufactured 24 years ago, has the oldest unchanged design of any car on the market. The longer a car is marketed without a design change, the more profitable it is for the manufacturer.

Johnson said that depositions also reveal a startling lack of action on Ford's part to design a "fix" for the fuel tank problems that addresses the types of fuel tank damage that have led to fires and deaths.

"If I sound frustrated with Ford, it's because I am," said Johnson. "They say one thing in public and another in sworn testimony. We've been at this for months, and we aren't at all sure that our officers are any safer."

The City of Dallas and others suing Ford over the Crown Victoria police cars are gathering sworn testimony from Ford officials as part of a consolidated discovery process before a federal judge in Cleveland. Johnson filed suit against Ford seeking Crown Victoria safety information last December in the wake of Officer Metzler's death.

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