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LDF Fights For Safe Police Cars

Posted on Saturday, February 01, 2003 at 12:00PM

On March 26, 2001 Jason Schechterle, a 30-year-old Phoenix police officer, was responding to a call, a routine event on his tour of duty that evening. The routine tour came to an abrupt end when the 1998 Ford Crown Victoria he was driving was rear ended by a taxicab. The Crown Victoria’s gas tank was perforated, gas escaped, and Schechterle’s vehicle erupted in flames trapping him to burn alive.

Luckily, a fire truck with paramedics on board was one block away. Schechterle was rescued, but not until he had been severely burned as a result of the fire. Schechterle had virtually no injuries except for the horrific burns. Schechterle was kept in a coma as a result of his burn for several months, and since that time. it has been a long road to recovery. Presently, he has undergone 33 surgeries and has at least a dozen more ahead. However, in the process, Schechterle has become an inspiration to his entire community and everyone with whom he comes in contact. Schechterle has become a symbol of perseverance and courage and, as a result, he was selected to carry the Olympic torch, met the U.S. President, and continues to visit local elementary schools to inspire our children. In November, Schechterle spoke to those attending the PORAC convention, stating that things are going well for him. It is that kind of selflessness that proves inspirational for so many others.

In the meantime, the Legal Defense Fund, first in August 2001, and again in November 2002, has provided financial assistance for the costs of the litigation against the Ford Motor Company. In part, those costs have been expended in seeking an alternative design, including the use of bladder tanks and fire suppression in the rear end mounted fuel tanks of the Ford Crown Victorias. Since Schechterle’s accident and that of Chandler Officer Robert Neilsen in June 2002, the city of Phoenix has installed bladder tanks in its entire Ford Crown Victoria fleet. As a result of PORAC’s and law enforcement victims’ efforts, Ford is now retrofitting all police vehicles with shields, which in the opinion of many are insufficient to resolve the problems with the design of the Crown Victoria.

Arizona has been especially affected with four such accidents and three lives lost. Schechterle survived his accident, however, Juan Cruz, Skip Fink and Robert Neilsen were not as fortunate, and joined at least 10 other police officers who have been burned alive after being rear-ended in their Crown Victoria police vehicles.

Presently, Schechterle has returned to work and police departments throughout the nation are busily placing shields in the fuel tanks of the Ford Crown Victorias. With the filing of his complaint, Schechterle will seek to have Ford account for the injuries he has suffered. However, the influence exerted by Schechterle seeks results that go beyond the successful conclusion of any given litigation. Schechterle’s objective, as he stated at the PORAC conference, is to bring about changes in the design of these vehicles. Schechterle, and the families of other victims of these tragedies, will not rest until these vehicles are made as safe as possible.

Schechterle is represented by attorneys Michael Napier, of Michael Napier, P.C., and Patrick McGroder, of Gallagher and Kennedy, in Phoenix, Arizona.

A number of class-action suits have been filed by cities and towns across the nation. Any questions regarding those class actions can be addressed to Michael Napier at (602) 248-9107 or Pat McGroder at (602) 530-8181.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.