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A dentist from Cape May Court House, N.J., dropped his wrongful death suit against Ford Motor Co. on Friday as a criminal investigation into the disputed cause of his wife’s death continued to swirl about him. Eric Thomas withdrew his claim with prejudice, and Ford agreed not to seek compensation for litigation costs. His criminal defense lawyer, Carl Poplar of the Turnersville, N.J., firm of Poplar & Eastlack, told the Associated Press that he urged Thomas to drop the case, Thomas v. Ford, 99-451, because it would cost him more to pursue than a jury might award. But the same day, Acting Cape May County Prosecutor David Blaker said in a statement that he would continue a criminal investigation into the death of Thomas’ pregnant wife, Tracy. “The Prosecutor’s Office was allowing the civil proceeding to progress without interference prior to interviewing further potential witnesses to gain additional information through discovery,” Blaker said. “Now that the civil action has been dismissed, all records and documents of that proceeding will be obtained and reviewed.” “A determination will then be made as to what, if any, additional investigation steps need be taken before ultimately determining whether any criminal prosecution is warranted,” he added. While Poplar said the suit was dropped for economic reasons, one of Ford’s attorneys, William Conroy of Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy of Turnersville and Wayne, Pa., called that excuse “nonsense.” “Dr. Thomas predicted this result several months ago,” Conroy says. “After Tracy’s death he said he would bring a suit against Ford, but that if he was asked too many questions, he would drop it. His own family members testified to that in a recent deposition. I did ask a lot of questions, and he did drop it.” Ford’s main defense to the suit has been the conclusion of its independent medical examiner that Tracy Thomas died not of blunt force trauma caused by the deployment of an air bag, as reported in the official autopsy and as claimed in the suit, but from strangulation. And Ford even suggested a motive, bringing forth in discovery that Thomas, who was in the passenger seat at the time his wife died, was having an extramarital affair. Thomas had given conflicting testimony on that point, leading Ford to file a motion for sanctions on which U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Rosen had yet to rule. Last week, Ford lawyers took depositions from the dead woman’s parents and sister that may have further damaged Thomas’ credibility, says Haddonfield sole practitioner Glenn Zeitz, another attorney for Ford. According to Zeitz, Wendy Mahdi, the sister, testified that at the hospital on the night of the accident, Thomas told her he “did everything he could to save the wife.” That would contradict the account Thomas later gave to authorities, which was that he was unconscious for an hour after the crash, Zeitz says. When Ford raised the strangulation theory, Thomas amended his suit to include a defamation count, but that was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Stephen Orlofsky, who found Ford had a litigation privilege. And last month Thomas withdrew the emotional distress counts of his suit, after Rosen ordered him to undergo a psychological exam, which Ford requested in light of his affair. “Every time we pulled up a rock, we found something underneath it that supported our position,” Zeitz says. “The only thing Ford said is ‘Take the facts where they lead,’ ” Zeitz says. “And we just kept gathering information to strengthen our position, much of which we have passed on to the Cape May County prosecutors,” adds Conroy. “But I think the key message here is that people expected us to accept it at face value, but we knew something was very wrong. We had a responsibility to investigate it and we did,” he says. The automaker refused the plaintiff’s requests for a confidentiality agreement, says Zeitz. Thomas’ civil attorneys were Thomas Mellon of Mellon, Webster & Mellon and Elliot Kolodny of Marston & Shensky, both in Doylestown, Pa., and James Pickering of South Seaville, N.J. Pickering declines to comment on developments in the case, and Kolodny and Mellon did not return calls. Rosen gave his approval to the suit’s withdrawal at a friendly hearing on Friday, when Warren Faulk, guardian ad litem for the 5-year-old daughter of Thomas and his late wife, said it would be in the best interests of the child. Jeff Blumenthal of The Legal Intelligencer contributed to this article.

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