W’bago to replace smashed squad car

WINNEBAGO – Winnebago City Council has approved buying a new squad car for the police department.

The purchase was necessary because a squad car driven by Officer Brittney Gehrking was totaled Aug. 10 after being rammed by two teenagers who had escaped from Elmore Academy.

In her report, Gehrking says she and state trooper Tony Kaiser tried to stop the stolen vehicle in the parking lot of McDonald’s in Blue Earth. The juvenile escapee rammed Kaiser’s squad car, then rammed Gehrking’s car, causing significant damage to both.

Gehrking’s squad was hit on the driver’s side, in the rear door, back quarter panel and wheel well.

“It was such a high-speed impact,” said City Administrator Chris Ziegler. “I’m pretty sure there’s structural damage to the frame. Cosmetically, it might look OK [after repairs], but if you get in a high-speed chase you could put yourself in further risk.”

Ziegler said the car, which had 26,000 miles on it, was totaled out at $21,647.

Toland found a 2014 squad car in Granite Falls priced at $26,883. It’s a white Ford, same model as the wrecked car, with a newer engine, and cut-outs for lights.

The fact that it is the same model means the city can take the cage, lights, computer and radio out of the damaged squad and put them in the new one. Otherwise, Ziegler said, the city would have to buy all of that equipment to fit the new car. That could add up to $50,000.

Winnebago police are now down to two squad cars, Ziegler noted.

“That’s usually not a problem,” he said, but if there were any mechanical problems with one of them, “we’d probably have to check with the county or surrounding departments and borrow a car.”

Ziegler said the price of the new car will come out of the police department’s capital equipment fund, which has $52,000 in it.

Toland said the 2010 squad car has 73,000 miles on it and was scheduled to be traded in next year.

“We usually keep a car four years,” he said.

Toland suggested pushing back the trade-in on the 2010 car by a year to let the fund build up a little and keep to a regular schedule.

Toland was asked about possible restitution.

He explained Gehrking was assisting under the mutual aid agreement, which states any responding agency is responsible for its own equipment and personnel.

“That’s pretty typical of those agreements around the state,” he said.

The squad car is fairly easy to replace, he reminded the council.

“Our most valuable commodity was not damaged that night,” said Toland, indicating Gehrking, who was sitting next to him.