Ford settles with burned cop - East Valley Tribune: News

Ford settles with burned cop

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Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004 6:03 am | Updated: 4:29 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman said Monday that the carmaker has reached a settlement agreement with Jason Schechterle, a Phoenix police officer severely burned in March 2001 when his patrol car exploded.

The case was set for trial June 8, but Judge Robert Gottsfield of Maricopa County Superior Court canceled it "based on advice of settlement" and told lawyers that he would dismiss the case Oct. 15 unless he hears from them, according to a minute entry of an April 30 proceeding.

Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes declined to discuss details.

"We always respect the right to privacy," Vokes said.

Schechterle could not be reached for comment. His attorney declined comment.

Ford settles the great majority of lawsuits filed against the company, Vokes said.

Ford settled lawsuits in May 2002 with the families of state Department of Public Safety officers Floyd "Skip" Fink of Chandler and Juan Cruz of Tucson, who died in fiery, rear-impact crashes in their Crown Victorias.

Fink died Feb. 18, 2000, when a motorist struck his parked car in the emergency lane of U.S. 60 in Tempe.

Cruz died Dec. 9, 1998, when a drunken driver struck his car from behind on Interstate 10 near Tucson.

Chandler police officer Robert Nielsen burned to death June 12, 2002, when a car turned in front of his cruiser, and the Crown Victoria slammed into a traffic light pole and burst into flames.

"We’re always concerned when any of our customers is involved in an accident, and we always work for a settlement that is fair to the customer and the stockholders in the company," Vokes said.

Schechterle suffered disfiguring burns to his hands and face.

He has become a beloved public figure in the Valley, appearing at numerous speaking engagements before schoolchildren and burn victims, carrying the Olympic torch and meeting President Bush. Last year, he was the campaign chairman for the successful Proposition 414, which created a taxing district to take over Maricopa County’s health care network.

On March 26, 2001, driver Rogelio Gutierrez suffered an epileptic seizure and slammed his vehicle into the rear of Schechterle’s patrol car, which then exploded.

Schechterle was trapped for several minutes before firefighters could pull him out.

He filed a product liability suit in February 2003 against Ford, contending that the design used in the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor — placing the fuel tank behind the rear axle — was defective.

The design left the tank vulnerable to punctures in high-speed crashes, attorney Patrick McGroder wrote in motions filed with the court.

Schechterle accused the carmaker of failing to provide adequate warning about the model’s dangers, which it knew about for a long time.

Vokes said the model is safe and has the highest crash test rating from the federal government.

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