05/18/2007

Tire wear cited in Tex. officer's death

Editor's Note — Police driving expert Capt. Travis Yates says that while we should not to jump to conclusions about this incident, the possibility that the rear tire tread was below the minimum standards should remind officers that their vehicle tires are a critical component to their driving safety. "The tread depth controls stopping, acceleration, and cornering," he says.

"Tires that are worn are more susceptible to hydroplaning, puncture and blowouts. A daily inspection of your tires is well worth the safety benefit.

"I am confident in the Mayor’s statement that they are 'prepared to spend whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our police officers.' That is the right attitude before and after a tragedy. My prayers go out to the family of Officer Esparza, the Irving Police Department and the entire Irving community."

By ERIC AASEN
The Dallas Morning News
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IRVING, Tex. — Low tire treads may have been a factor in the death of an Irving police officer whose squad car slid out of control last month, a police report indicates.

Irving officials have been investigating the accident as well as studying conditions of other cars and maintenance policies.

On April 13, Officer Andrew Esparza was driving on a State Highway 183 entry ramp on his way to the scene of an accident as severe weather hit. He crashed into a light pole after his car apparently hydroplaned. Officer Esparza, 26, died later at a hospital.

An Irving police report states that the "rear tire treads were below the minimum standard" on the car that Officer Esparza had been driving. The worn tires may have caused the car to slide "out of control during acceleration on the entry ramp," the report said.

The report states the minimum standard is 2/32 of an inch.

Irving officials stressed that worn tires were just one possible factor in the crash. The police report states that Officer Esparza "failed to control speed on the wet roadway."

Irving police spokesman Officer David Tull said that factors included rainfall, the slick roadway, the car's acceleration.

"Any time you have a possible factor, it's a cause for concern and a cause for action," Officer Tull said. "A lot of things came together all at one point to interact in this accident, and I don't think you can put it on one particular point."

Irving officials are also looking at the light pole, said Laurie Kunke, city spokeswoman. Officials are looking into whether the pole's concrete base was positioned correctly, Ms. Kunke said.

Mayor Herbert Gears said he's confident that officials are conducting a thorough investigation.

"This was a horrible tragedy, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent a reoccurrence of this tragedy," Mr. Gears said. "We have a history of providing our police force everything they need to do their jobs and to be safe. And we're going to make sure that that commitment is illustrated in every policy, every procedure, down to the last tire."

When Irving police became aware of the worn tires, "the immediate response was to check other vehicles," Officer Tull said. He wasn't able to provide specifics Wednesday on whether other vehicles had maintenance issues.

The police department has a regular maintenance schedule for its vehicles, Officer Tull said.

Irving officials are conducting an internal audit of the city's equipment replacement procedures, Mr. Gears said. Preliminary data indicated "we might have some issues that might need correction," including tire replacement, he said.

The City Council expects to receive a report on the city's investigation at its planning meeting Wednesday, Mr. Gears said.

If reforms or new equipment are needed, cost won't be an issue, the mayor said.

"You can't put a price on the safety of our police officers," he said. "We're prepared to spend whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our police officers."

Officer Esparza's parents couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Officer Esparza was remembered last month as a man who was serious about his work, loved children and had a deep Christian faith.

Officer Esparza wanted to be police chief someday, said his brother, Ralph, who also serves on the Irving police force.

Copyright 2007 The Dallas Morning News

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