By Elise Franco
The fiery crash that landed Austintown Patrolman Ross Linert in a hospital burn unit left more than just physical damage.
Linert and his wife, Brenda, testified Wednesday at the jury trial of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit they filed against the Ford Motor Co.
The couple alleges in the lawsuit that the 2005 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor cruiser, which Linert occupied at the time of the crash in 2007, had a fuel tank that was improperly located behind its rear axle, without adequate shields or guards and without a fire-suppression system.
The crash left Linert in a hospital for weeks. He continues to suffer physical disabilities and depression.
Linert, who worked for APD for 11 years before the accident, said he remembers everything about that night, including the moments after the crash.
“I was dispatched to North Meridian Road to check on an intoxicated driver,” he said. “I then remember being struck from behind. I saw the headlights come, and it was instantaneous.”
Adrien N. Foutz, 25, of Girard, was convicted for rear-ending the cruiser Linert was driving Nov. 11, 2007, on Meridian Road at Interstate 680.
Foutz pleaded no contest to aggravated vehicular assault and served 19 months in prison. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.279 – more than three times the legal limit, crash investigators said.
Linert said after Foutz’s car hit his cruiser, his vehicle was pushed along the road and he began to see flames coming into the cabin of the cruiser.
“I was getting burned,” he said. “I knew I needed to get the heck out of the car, or I was going to die.”
After managing to get out of the car, Linert said he walked up to a sergeant who had arrived on scene and asked what happened.
“When I was in the ambulance, I remember asking them not to tell my mom because I didn’t want to bother her,” he said. “And I said to tell my wife I loved her, because at that point, I didn’t know what would happen to me.”
Brenda Linert said her husband was taken first to St. Elizabeth Health Center, then to Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Center. She said she wasn’t able to see him until several hours after the accident.
“He was still sedated and they were wrapping him with gauze,” she said. “It was the last time I could see his face for a very long time.”
Linert was sedated and on pain medications for 33 days, she said. He didn’t realize the severity of what had happened after he awoke, she said.
“He kept saying he wanted to go home right then,” she said.
Linert remained in the hospital for several more weeks undergoing skin-graft treatments and physical therapy.
Though he’s regained motion in both hands, he still has trouble moving his left. He’s also lost some vision in both eyes, according to testimony.
These challenges, and others, have kept Linert from doing the things he once loved — working on cars and returning to the Austintown police force.
He said he is able to do some household tasks and he’s grateful to coach his youngest son’s little league baseball team.
“My motor skills, I have trouble with stuff like that,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was being able to get a baseball glove on again and play baseball with my kids.”