Photo/Story Gallery 2004
FHP Saves Family in Runaway Car
Troopers of the Month – September 2004
On September 20th, 2004, at 3:23 AM, Duty Officer Frances Dunn at the Tallahassee Regional Communications Center received a call from a frantic caller who was traveling south in Bay County on U.S. Highway 231 in a runaway vehicle with its accelerator stuck. Realizing that this was a potential life-threatening situation, Duty Officer Dunn gave the caller several possible solutions in an attempt to stop their vehicle. Acting on the advice, the driver tried everything–switching the engine off, using the emergency brake, shifting gears–nothing worked. All attempts to stop the vehicle were useless. Soon, the cellular phone connection was lost!
In the meantime, Duty Officer David Roark had gathered all necessary information and broadcast a BOLO to all troopers patrolling the area in Bay County. Then, Duty Officer Roark made contact with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, remaining on the telephone with them to relay vital information to the FHP field units.
Pictured left, L to R: Duty Officer Supervisor Vicki Paul, Shift Commander Lt. James Shaw, Duty Officer David Roark, and Duty Officer Frances Dunn (front)
Trooper Phillip Spaziante and Sergeant David Drake (Troop A) soon responded, locating the runaway vehicle. With the assistance of Duty Officer Roark and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, vital information was promptly relayed to the family regarding the procedures that would take place in an attempt to stop their vehicle safely and without incident. The troopers would attempt to slow their vehicle using their patrol cars.
Trooper Spaziante began following the vehicle southbound at approximately 120 miles per hour. Sergeant Drake was able to accelerate his patrol car and place it in front of the runaway vehicle. Other Florida Highway Patrol units, sheriff’s department units and city police department units began to stop traffic at the major intersections ahead of the runaway vehicle. Sergeant Drake and Trooper Spaziante knew that the vehicle was going way too fast to negotiate the upcoming intersection of U.S. Highways 231 & 98, so they had to work quickly to stop the vehicle. They knew if the vehicle crashed going that fast the result would most likely be fatal.
Sgt. Drake attempted to stop the runaway vehicle with his patrol car by slowing his patrol car down in front of the runaway vehicle until the front bumper of the runaway vehicle made contact with the rear bumper of his patrol car. Sergeant Drake then applied his brakes to try and stop the runaway vehicle. Sgt. Drake was able to slow the vehicle down to 95 miles per hour before the driver started to lose control. Sgt. Drake steered right and accelerated away from the vehicle to allow the driver to regain full control of the vehicle. The driver of the runaway vehicle did regain control and he passed Sgt. Drake’s patrol car.
Trooper Spaziante then pulled ahead of the runaway vehicle to attempt to stop the vehicle. Suddenly, the right front tire blew on the runaway vehicle and it slowed to approximately 80 miles per hour. Trooper Spaziante then attempted to stop the runaway vehicle by slowing his patrol car down, allowing the front bumper of the runaway vehicle to make contact with the rear bumper of his patrol car. The driver of the runaway vehicle again started to lose control of the vehicle. Trooper Spaziante made another attempt to stop the runaway vehicle using the rear of his patrol car. This time the driver of the runaway vehicle was able to maintain control of the vehicle and stay behind Trooper Spaziante’s patrol car. Trooper Spaziante used his brakes to bring the runaway vehicle to a stop. The runaway vehicle’s engine was still running full throttle and slightly pushing Trooper Spaziante’s patrol car forward. Several officers quickly pulled the family out of the vehicle while Sgt. Drake entered the vehicle and shut the engine down. The vehicle was stopped about 1 1/2 miles north of the dangerous intersection where a serious crash would have occurred.
Thanks to the courageous actions of Sergeant Drake and Trooper Spaziante, a serious crash that most surely would have resulted in fatalities was prevented. All FHP members involved are to be commended on their quick thinking and professional actions that resulted in this life saving event!