Cars sat idle and businesses were stagnant for hours Tuesday morning after a sheriff's deputy lost control of his cruiser and crashed while responding to a call on James Island.
The fiery collision on Folly Road was reported about 7 a.m. at Ellis Creek, just south of the James Island connector. Northbound traffic, including thousands of people driving to work in West Ashley and downtown Charleston, was at a standstill. Southbound vehicles were diverted to the connector.
Congestion dogged the area for five hours until the road reopened at noon.
S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins said the deputy, William Fawcett, was rushing to a call with his car's lights and sirens activated when he lost control of the southbound Ford Crown Victoria. The sedan skidded sideways, bounded over a concrete median and struck an oncoming Nissan SUV driven by Leah Franklin, 27.
The Charleston sheriff's cruiser stopped only when it crashed into a guardrail along the creek on the northbound roadside. Its gas tank ruptured, and the car's rear portion ignited.
Sheriff's officials said the deputy had been responding to a report of an alarm, but no more details were available.
“Something happened with his vehicle, causing him to lose control,” Chief Deputy John Clark said. “He crossed a couple of lanes. His car caught fire.”
Fawcett and Franklin suffered minor injuries and were taken to Medical University Hospital.
While the cruiser's front end suffered crash damage, the rear portion is where the fire started. Flames burned the trunk, which contained ammunition.
Clark said, “Fords have had the issue before,” but he didn't know if the car was equipped with the fire-suppression system Ford developed to combat it. The manufacturer stopped taking orders for the Crown Victoria police car in 2011, partially because it was plagued by spontaneous fires after wrecks, and replaced it with a Police Interceptor based on the Taurus.
The cruiser's skidding tires left 100 feet of black marks near a Harris Teeter and a SpeeDee Oil Change shop. Michael Peace, a mechanic at the shop, sat on a picnic table in front of the business and watched a single lane of traffic trickle by. Other employees couldn't reach the shop because of the road closure.
“The only business we have are the people who dropped off their cars yesterday,” he said. “No one can get here.”