LOPD officer hears ‘popping sounds’ then notices burning vehicle on M-24

LOPD officer hears ‘popping sounds’ then notices burning vehicle on M-24

By Jim Newell

Lake Orion Review Editor

A Lake Orion police officer who heard odd popping sounds discovered a SUV – with the rear of the vehicle in flames – driving down M-24 on Jan. 30.

It also appeared to the police officer that the driver was unaware that his car was on fire.

LOPD Officer Christopher Richardson was on routine patrol at 9:47 a.m. last Tuesday, traveling northbound on N. Park Boulevard (M-24) at West Flint Street in Lake Orion when heard loud popping sounds that resembled gun shots, said Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh in a news release to The Lake Orion Review.

Richardson began visually scanning the area and nearby business parking lots without detecting anything, but as the sound continued, he began to focus on the vehicles around him.

“There was nothing abnormal, so he maneuvered around the vehicles ahead of him” and saw a red 2008 Saturn Vue, also northbound on M-24, with flames coming from the back hatch and rear bumper, Narsh said.

Despite the negative three-degree temperature at the time, it appeared that the fire was spreading and making its way down to the fuel tank, Narsh said.

Richardson activated his emergency lights and siren and stopped the Saturn.

The driver, Aaron Gard, a 20-year-old Orion Township resident, pulled into the Chase Bank at the corner of N. Lapeer Road (M-24) at Drahner Road, in Oxford Township, which was his intended destination.

“The officer rushed to the driver’s door, opened it and directed the lone occupant out of the vehicle,” Narsh said. “It’s the most bizarre traffic stop ever.”

Gard asked the officer why he was pulled over, but when Richardson told him his vehicle was on fire, “He quickly exited and was shocked to see the flames,” Narsh said.

Richardson requested the Oxford Township fire Department, which quickly arrived and extinguished the flames. Oakland County Sheriff Deputies from the Oxford Township Substation also arrived on scene to assist, Narsh said.

Gard informed Richardson he was unsure what could have started the fire. He had left his home in Orion Township, made a stop in downtown Lake Orion and was heading to the bank when he was pulled over.

“Oxford Township Fire Department officials have preliminarily ruled the fire accidental with the cause most likely the result of a portion of the exhaust system bent to cause contact with plastic portions of the vehicle,” Narsh said in the incident report.

Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz said it took firefighters only a couple of minutes to extinguish the flames once they arrived on scene.

“The only thing that was burning when we got there was the plastic/rubber bumper, that composite (material). None of the fire had gotten into the interior of the car. It was all exterior,” he said. “Fortunately, the bank was closed that day because of the cold.”

An Oxford Fire Department investigation revealed that “No wires had shorted out that may have led to the fire,” said Scholz, who has seen other car fires during his 43-year career, though, “In recent years, not so many. Never have I seen one like that.”

Narsh and Gard appeared on WDIV Channel 4 News Detroit the next day to talk about the incident, with Gard saying he didn’t “smell or feel anything unusual” while driving.

“Thankfully no one was injured in this incident. We are thankful for the officer’s keen observations and fast response to safely stop the vehicle and remove the driver from harm,” Narsh said.

There is no dash cam video available in the LOPD patrol cruiser Officer Richardson was driving, but he did take video of the incident on his cell phone. A clip of the vehicle on fire is on The Lake Orion Review and Lake Orion Police Department Facebook pages.