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A dentist who sued Ford Motor Co. claiming a faulty air bag caused his wife’s death, then withdrew the case when Ford proffered evidence of his own culpability, has been hit with a suit himself — lodged by his former in-laws. Last Monday, Doris and Donald Rose, of Hyannis, Mass., sued Eric Thomas, of Cape May Court House, N.J., for the wrongful death of their daughter, Tracy, who was found dead behind the wheel of her Ford Explorer on Feb. 9, 1997. The federal court suit, filed in Camden, N.J., seeks compensatory and punitive damages and to deny Thomas a share of her estate. The Roses filed a separate complaint in the Cape May County Superior Court Chancery Division, asking to have Thomas ousted as administrator of Tracy’s estate and replaced with Doris Rose, who also seeks to be appointed guardian ad litem of the couple’s daughter, Alix. “We are determined to achieve some measure of justice for this family and ferret out the truth of Tracy’s death. We believe the evidence will point directly to Dr. Thomas,” says the Roses’ attorney, Maplewood, N.J., solo Robert Pickett. Local authorities had concluded that the death was caused by blunt force trauma from the passenger-side air bag, which had deployed in a minor crash. But in the course of discovery in Thomas’ product liability suit against Ford, a defense expert said that Tracy’s injuries appeared consistent with strangulation. Discovery also showed that Thomas lied under oath about having an extramarital affair and that the days before his wife’s death he made dozens of phone calls to his mistress, whom he later married. Last July, Thomas withdrew his civil suit against Ford, saying the litigation was becoming too costly. The investigation into Tracy’s death was reopened last year following the discovery disclosures, but Acting Cape May County Prosecutor J. David Meyer said on Feb. 21 that his office would not charge Thomas unless it received additional information. Meyer said the differing opinions of numerous experts would make it difficult for a jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the death was a homicide. As of Friday, Thomas had not yet been served with the federal complaint, which lists Does 1-10 as unknown co-conspirators. Pickett says he has no specific information suggesting others were responsible for Tracy’s death. He says the Roses have a theory about how she died but he declines to discuss it. Pickett said he had spoken by telephone to Turnersville, N.J., attorney Carl Poplar, who indicated he would represent Thomas in the matter. Poplar, of the firm of Poplar & Eastlack, was out of his office Friday and could not be reached.

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