Patrol car catches fire after getting stuck on St. Helena Island

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comMay 3, 2012 

A Beaufort County sheriff's deputy may be on the hook for some of the damage done to his patrol car last week after getting stuck on a back road on St. Helena Island.

The vehicle caught fire as he attempted to free it.

"We are evaluating the steps he took, and we may end up making him part of our 'Deductible Club,' " Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. "He might have to pay the insurance deductible to repair or replace the vehicle."

The deputy, Michael Hernandez, was on patrol at about 5 a.m. Saturday near Seaside Road when he pulled over to chat with another officer and became stuck on a sandy berm, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

When the deputy tried to free the car from the loose sand, the heat from the undercarriage ignited some dry pine straw beneath it, sparking a small brush fire that then spread to the engine compartment, the report said.

Firefighters from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District extinguished the blaze, and the 2008 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor was towed to a county facility in Burton, according to the report. No injuries were reported.

Tanner said county officials were awaiting an estimate Wednesday on the damage.

"He was stuck between a rock and a hard spot that night," Tanner said. "He did what he could to get the vehicle out, but he probably did too much."

It's unusual for a squad car to catch fire, but they commonly get stuck while patrolling some of the county's unpaved, sandy rural roads, Tanner said.

"This was unfortunate but not uncommon," he said. "We want to patrol every nook and cranny of this county, and some of the roads -- especially on the island -- can be pretty difficult on our vehicles."

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