ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Surveillance video shows a patrol car sitting outside the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, when without warning, it bursts into flames.
"They heard a little noise and some of the correctional officers come running in saying a vehicle was on fire," says Sheriff Jonathan Horton.
The officer driving that car came in around 5:30 a.m. Monday morning for roll call. The car, left running because of computers and other equipment inside, ignited at 6:03 a.m. It was so hot, it scorched and tore up the asphalt underneath.
"It appeared that some fluid was coming from underneath the vehicle. If you had went another three or four minutes, he would have been back in the vehicle," says Horton.
It’s become a huge safety concern. The car was a 2009 Crown Victoria. Sixteen of the sheriff’s cars are eight or 10 years old, all with over 170,000 miles.
“It is an expensive thing, we understand that. It’s not a fix that the county commission can just say ‘here’s the money’. But we’re looking at different things in the budget,” said Horton.
The county does give the sheriff a budget for cars, but Horton says it only covers two or three vehicles. Meanwhile, he spends around $50,000 per year maintaining the older cars.
“We spend a lot of money on rebuilding transmissions, rebuilding motors, we have terrible suspension, shocks, which can be dangerous when it comes to taking curves and responding to calls and something where someone’s waiting and their life depends on when we get there,” said Horton.
He’s also having to spend over $15 million to fix interior door locks and other things at the jail, but the cars are next on the list to get attention.
“I can’t stress how thankful I am that this young man wasn’t sitting at the red light when the car went kaboom,” said Horton.
Sheriff Horton will be at Tuesday morning’s county commission meeting to discuss options.