The job of the law enforcement officer is rarely an easy one. And when it comes to high speed pursuits, the danger can be fast and furious. In 2006, one such pursuit proved deadly, causing controversy in the courtroom and among New York State Police. It also brought change to the Chevy Tahoe many troopers drive. But as Joleene Des Rosiers tells us, it's not the first vehicle to be modified after the death of a New York State Trooper.
"He was the greatest kid on earth. And the State Police can do no better."
After the death of New York State Trooper Craig Todeschini in April of 2006, the New York State Police Chevy Tahoe was completely modified.
"The design itself has changed dramatically," said Trooper Jack Keller, NYSP spokesperson.
Todeschini was in pursuit of a motorcycle said to have been traveling over 100 miles per hour through the Hamlet of Pompey Hill. The road he was traveling on has a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour. When Todeschini encountered a sharp turn he lost control of the 2005 Chevy Tahoe he was driving and crashed into a tree.
If you live in New York State, it's not hard to spot a New York State Trooper. The dark blue vehicles sport a yellow stripe and the troopers inside are dressed in traditional grey, topped with a grey Stetson.
Their fleets can consist of a combination of several different vehicles, including the Dodge Charger, the Chevy Tahoe and the Ford Crown Victoria. None of these vehicles are considered completely safe when driven at high speeds.
"There's a danger in any vehicle that any law enforcement gets into," Keller said.
Before the Tahoes began to populate the fleet, the Crown Victoria was the primary vehicle. Only it carried a major flaw, a flaw that ultimately took the life of New York State Trooper Robert Ambrose, of Troop T in Tarrytown in December of 2002.
"The Crown Victoria, we describe it as a big Pinto. It had the same gas tank design as the Pinto, basically behind the axel. It was a flawed design, it was an outdated design. The State Police knew about the problems and they did not retrofit Trooper Ambroses' Crown Victoria quickly enough," said NYSP PBA President Daniel De Federicis. "His vehicle was rear-ended. It caught fire, he was trapped inside. He died a horrific death."
Today, the Crown Victoria's are built with a safety feature.
Keller said, "There was some issues with the fire hazards with the gas tank issue. Ford has changed some of those criteria and now every Crown Vic that gets put out there for the State Police has a specialized unit inside, weather if something happened, it got rear-ended, there's a button they can hit and it will mix a chemical within the gas tank to help provide more protection for the trooper and avoid any fires."
For De Federicis, this is a problem. Not that the vehicle has been modified, but that a life was lost before something was done.
"Somebody has had to die before they took corrective action. And the sad part is, even then, they were slow to take corrective action and this union had to prod them, embarrass them, go to the Governor's office, go above their heads. It's a sad history," De Federicis said.
De Federicis says the same holds true when it comes to the Tahoe. Before the death of Todeschini, he says there were some concerns about the vehicle because it was so big and bulky. But he says nothing was done until Todeschini died.
The new model is wider and lower to the ground for improved handling. But is it still safe for high speed pursuits? We'll let you know what we learned in part 2 of the 'Truth about Tahoes'.