Archive for: 2010

Deer Avoidance Blamed for Fatal Rollover Accidents

Deer blamed for rollover accidents

By David Hotle
Published: Monday, November 22, 2010 3:10 PM CST

In the wake of three rollover accidents over the weekend, Washington County, Iowa, Sheriff Jerry Dunbar warned motorists to be alert for deer in the roadway during the annual rutting seasons.

Dunbar said today that many rollover accidents occur when a deer runs onto the roadway in front of a vehicle. He said the driver will attempt to swerve and will either go off the roadway or lose control, and the vehicle can roll over. He advises motorists to stay alert while driving, especially after dark, for deer in the roadway or on the side of the road.

“I know people are traveling now,” Dunbar said. “Deer are still a problem, they are still in rut. It’s still a big issue, especially during the holiday season. I think it will be especially bad this season.”

He said he had spoken with people after accidents and they said that they had seen deer prior to the accident.

According to a press release from the Washington County Communications Center, at about 7 a.m. Friday, a rollover accident was reported in the 1700 block of Underwood Avenue. The driver, Jesse Steven Hahn, 16, of Ainsworth, had reportedly been ejected from the vehicle. He was airlifted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. The accident is still under investigation.

At about 8:20 p.m. Friday, a vehicle was reported on its side in the 2700 block of Wayland Road, south of Washington. Emergency personnel responding located a 1990 Jeep Cherokee with damage. There were no injuries.

At about 12:40 a.m. Saturday, a truck reportedly rolled over near 320th Street and Louisa/Washington Road. Emergency personnel from the Crawfordsville Fire Department, Crawfordsville First Responders, Washington Rescue Squad, Washington County Ambulance and the Washington Sheriff’s Department responded. The operator was transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The press release didn’t include the names of the operators for the second two accidents.

Behind Ford’s Recent $131 Million Explorer Rollover Judgment

Another Reminder of Ford Explorer Tragedies From A Decade Ago

David Kiley – Correspondent AOL Autos

The headline felt like it must be an old story, one from last decade: “Mississippi Jury Hands Ford $131 Million Verdict in Explorer Death.” But it wasn’t. A decade ago — almost to the month — Ford initiated a recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires the automaker felt were contributing to Explorer rollover accidents, yet it is still in court battling claims and paying out settlements.

But don’t get the idea that Ford is paying anyone $131 million. That was a jury award from a Mississippi court, which decided the case in favor of the family of Brian Cole, a young pitching prospect for the New York Mets, who died in a 2001 accident while driving his Explorer Sport. Cole’s cousin, who was also in the vehicle but survived, was awarded $1.5 million.

As is the case in most big personal injury cases, lawyers and plaintiffs settle for a fraction of the actual award. “Lawyers and plaintiffs want their pay day, and if they held out for the whole amount, it could take many years after many appeals are exhausted,” says Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies, a Rehoboth, Mass., firm that supplies plaintiff lawyers with research and other services.

While Little Rock, Ark. attorney Tab Turner and his client probably settled with Ford for between $7 and $15 million at the most, the case, and the size of the award, thrusts the history of the Explorer back into the headlines, and at an inopportune time for Ford. The company is in the process of launching an all-new version of the once popular SUV.

Tab Turner has settled more than $1 billion in rollover cases with Ford over the past two decades, and was a major character in a book about Ford’s Explorer cases, “Tragic Indifference,” written by journalist Adam L. Penenberg in 2003.

While Ford is still plowing through litigation and cases involving pre-2002 Explorers, the number of rollover accidents since then have been few, says Kane. “Starting with the 2002 version, Ford lowered the vehicles, widened the track and introduced electronic-stability-control to the SUV, plus it added an independent rear suspension, all of which greatly eliminated the problems associated with the previous version,” Kane said.

That previous Explorer, in fact, was a very different vehicle than the one sold today. It was an SUV that started out life as a pickup truck, with a solid rear axle and a comparatively high center of gravity. This made the vehicle much more prone to roll. To bring an SUV to market as quickly and cheaply as possible, Ford adapted the pickup chassis and stuck an SUV top on it.

Still, that Explorer was the king of the 1990s SUV craze when baby boomers were turning their backs on station wagons and minivans and embracing the rugged Eddie Bauer mystique of an SUV as family car. Ford sold 445,000 Explorers in 2000. Americans have since soured on big, heavy gas guzzler SUVs, and Ford sold only 52,000 Explorers in 2009.

In the case of Brian Cole, the young athlete was speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt. He was ejected from the vehicle when it rolled over. Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said he was traveling at over 80 mph. She also said Ford would have won the case had the judge not excluded certain pieces of evidence.

Cole was driving an Explorer Sport, the two-door version, which had a wheelbase 10 inches shorter than the four-door and a greater incidence of rollover than the four-door version. The shorter wheelbase, combined with the same high center of gravity as the four-door, the theory goes, made it even more unstable in accidents.

The old Explorer was unquestionably a problem for Ford, and it appears to be the gift that keeps on giving. It made the company dizzying profits that in its heyday topped $10,000 per vehicle. But the safety record is hard to escape. According to government accident statistics assembled by Safety and Research Strategies, one in every 2,700 Ford Explorers built between 1990 and 2001 rolled over and killed at least one person in the car. The accident figures associated with the Ford Bronco II, the forerunner of the Ford Explorer, are even more frightening: one in 500 Bronco II’s ever produced was involved in a fatal rollover.

Ford always maintained when it went through its massive and costly recall of Firestone tires that it was the tires that caused the rollovers, not the vehicle design. But Kane says that even after the recall and replacement of tires in 2000 and 2001, pre-2002 Ford Explorers continued to have fatal rollovers at a far greater rate than rival SUVs. “In other words, it’s hard to blame the tires when the accidents kept happening after the tires were replaced,” said Kane.

There are, of course, fewer and fewer of the 4 million-plus pre-2002 Explorers on the road, as many have been retired to the scrap yard. Explorer was the top trade-in during the U.S. Government’s “Cash-for-Clunkers” program.

Kane says that those still on the road pose serious problems. “They are older, with rear suspension problems, don’t get maintained as well, and in many cases are going to have cheaper tires on them because people tend to put cheaper tires on vehicles as they age,” he says.

To be sure, there is no connection between that Explorer and the one Ford has recently introduced. Indeed, the new 2011 Explorer is really a crossover, based on the same platform as a car. In fact, its underpinnings have a bloodline to a Volvo S80 sedan. And you can’t get much safer than that.

Second Person Dies Following Kansas Turnpike Rollover Accident

A second person has died following a rollover accident on the Kansas Turnpike on Friday morning.

According to the accident log on the Kansas Turnpike’s Web site, the driver, Wichita resident, Max McCutcheon, was traveling southbound and lost control for an unknown reason sending the vehicle into a rear wheel skid at Mile post 108.2 in Chase County on the Kansas Turnpike. The vehicle, a 1985 Chevrolet SUV, went into the grassy ditch, overturned three times and came to rest facing southbound in the southbound ditch on its wheels.

McCutcheon, 18, died in the accident. He was ejected from the vehicle. According to the accident log, he was not wearing a seat belt. One other occupant of the vehicle, Blanca Villanueva, 23, of Wichita, has died. Haley Randall, 21, of Rose Hill was injured in the accident. The log stated that Randall and Villanueva also were not wearing seat belts.

NH Couple Seriously Injured in I-93 SUV Rollover Accident

NH Couple Seriously Injured in I-93 SUV Rollover Accident

SUV rollover on I-93 in New Hampshire seriously injures two people.

SALEM, NH – Traffic on Interstate 93 South was backed up for hours Thursday afternoon while workers removed debris following an SUV rollover at Exit 2.

A man and woman in their mid-60s were both transported to Lawrence General Hospital after the accident with minor, non-life-threatening injuries, said Salem Fire Marshal Jeff Emanuelson. Emanuelson said he did not yet have the identities of the victims as of Thursday afternoon.

Emanuelson said he wasn’t sure what caused the large vehicle to roll several times while carrying a camping trailer, but said New Hampshire State Police were investigating the accident. No other vehicles were involved in the crash.

A call first came in to the Salem Fire Department at 1:18 p.m., Emanuelson said, and rescue workers were on scene within four minutes.

The highway was completely blocked off for a brief period of time, Emanuelson said, but one lane of traffic was maintained throughout the rest of the rescue efforts.

Rescue personnel had to cut into the top of the vehicle to remove the two occupants, Emanuelson said, and both were transported to the hospital in short succession.

Workers remained on scene late into the afternoon, dumping the large mass of debris from the camping trailer into a large container at the accident site.

NHTSA: Anti-Rollover Technology Could Save 100 Lives Per Year

NTSB Eyes Anti-Rollover Technology for Trucks
William B. Cassidy | Aug 5, 2010 3:37PM GMT

Mandating the use of stability control systems on heavy trucks could help avoid almost 3,500 rollover accidents and save more than 100 lives a year, industry and federal officials told the National Transportation Safety Board.

Technology that exists today could be retrofitted to trucks for about $1,200 or less, a technical panel of NTSB investigators said at a safety board hearing Aug. 3. The systems would add about $1,000 to the cost of a new Class 8 truck, they said.

The NTSB held two days of hearings this week on the rollover of a tank truck carrying petroleum gas last year on Interstate 69 in Indiana that led to an accident and fire involving eight other vehicles, injuring the truck driver and four motorists.

“Rollovers of cargo tank vehicles continue to be serious events,” Deborah A.P. Hersman, NTSB chairman, said at the Aug. 3-4 hearing in Washington.

She said that the NTSB has investigated several heavy truck rollover accidents over the past few decades and made numerous recommendations on vehicle stability, driver training, the crashworthiness of cargo tanks and highway design.

Tank trucks represent only 6 percent of all heavy trucks, but are involved in 31 percent of fatal commercial truck rollover accidents, Hersman said. Their high center of gravity makes them more vulnerable to rollovers, she said.

She said some form of truck driver error is involved in 78 percent of tank truck rollover accidents despite advances in driver education and safety training. “It seems that training cannot prevent all rollovers,” Hersman said.

Although the NTSB has no regulatory power, its recommendations could lead to a Department of Transportation rulemaking or congressional action.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to complete studies on anti-rollover technology for trucks this year, the Associated Press reported.

Nathaniel Beuse, director of crash avoidance standards at NHTSA, said a university study found such systems could prevent 4,400 injuries a year, according to the AP.

Several trucking companies are already using stability systems. Neil Voorhees, safety director at Trimac Transportation, told the NTSB that the technology has cut the tank trucker’s rollover accidents from 11 to one a year, AP reported.

Con-way Freight last month said it would spend $100 million on 1,300 Freightliner trucks with anti-rollover systems as well as other high-tech safety features.

The carrier took part in a pilot project run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Nissan Pathfinder Tire Failure Rollover Kills Teen

LOVELOCK, NV — Three children were ejected from the SUV they were traveling in when it left the road on Interstate 80 Tuesday morning and rolled over, officials said. One of the three, Zahra Rashidy, 15, died at the scene of the accident, 17 miles east of Lovelock, on Interstate 80 before 10 a.m.

Also ejected were eighteen-year-old Nilab Rashidy and Sajjad Rashidy, age 11. The two surviving children were transported with their parents to Renown Regional Medical Center by medical helicopter.

The parents, Mohammad Hussein Rashidy, a 49-year-old resident of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and his wife Sadaf Rashidy, 45, remained at Renown Regional Medical Center and continued to receive care, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol. It is beleived that the Rashidys were traveling to California to attend a wedding.

Sometime after 9:30 a.m., Mr. Rashidy lost control of the Nissan Pathfinder he was driving and left the pavement on the right side of the roadway where the SUV proceeded to rollover. Investigators believe that a tire failure involving tread separation was responsible for the loss of control. The tread separated from the left rear tire of the vehicle, which in many cases can cause an SUV to become unstable.

One Dead in SUV Rollover

NOBLESVILLE, IN — John Peterson of Noblesville died when the SUV he was driving on a private road near Gray Road and 151st Street rolled over. The accident happened around 4 am.

Police say that Peterson was partially ejected from the vehicle and then pinned underneath.

“Right now, it looks like speed may have been a factor,” said Sgt. Dustin Dixon, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. “The vehicle partially rolled over on a gravel drive. The vehicle itself, when I was back there, was on its side, there wasn’t a whole lot of damage visible at that time.”

Police say they had trouble getting to the scene, because it was in a wooded area. Peterson was pronounced dead at the scene.

One Dead After Oklahoma SUV Rollover Accident

KELLYVILLE, OK — One person was killed in a rollover accident on the Turner Turnpike Tuesday afternoon, near Kellyville.

According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Jennifer Foster, 27, died when she was ejected from the Mitsubushi Montero she was riding in.

State troopers say that the Mitsubishi Montero SUV was traveling eastbound in the left lane when the driver, Raul Maltos, 22, drifted over into the outside lane and hit another vehicle. The collision sent the Mitsubishi Montero nearly four hundred feet off the road, where it rolled over five times. According to Oklahoma Highway Patrol, no one in the Montero SUV rollover was wearing seatbelts.

Foster and another passenger, Alyssa Harris, 2, were ejected. Harris was treated and released from a Tulsa hospital. The driver of the Montero, Raul Maltos, 22, was taken to St. Francis Hospital in stable condition. Another passenger, Houston Coine, 10, was also admitted to St. Francis Hospital in stable condition.

The driver of the other car, Joey Sixkiller Jr., was not injured. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Sixkiller was the only one involved in this accident that was wearing a seatbelt.

Traffic was shut down to one lane in the eastbound direction while the scene was cleared.

8 Killed in Rollover in Arizona

SONOITA, AZ — Eight illegal immigrants riding in the back of an SUV were killed when the driver lost control on a remote southeastern Arizona highway and the vehicle rolled over, authorities said Sunday.

At least 27 men and women were in the Ford Excursion traveling about four miles east of Sonoita when the vehicle rolled over for an unknown reason shortly before midnight Saturday, said Officer Joy Craig of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Most of the vehicle’s occupants were ejected during the rollover.

Authorities said all the victims are believed to be illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico. “There was no rear seat in the Ford Excursion. They stack live people, as many as they can, like stacking wood,” according to Craig.

Five survivors were airlifted to a Tucson hospital and 14 were transported via ambulance to hospitals in Tucson and Sierra Vista. Eight men treated and released from the hospitals were in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, agency spokesman Omar Candelaria said.

The identities of the driver, passengers and the vehicle’s owner were being withheld pending their identification and notification of relatives. Many victims did not have identification, Craig said.

The department said the cause of the SUV rollover is under investigation. Investigators have not yet been able to identify the driver, but if he survives, Craig said charges against him would be pending.

Craig said the remote area where the accident occurred is a route commonly used by those smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States. “We see the people stacked like wood frequently,” she said. “If they had had the right number of people in there and they all had their seat belts on, they may have lived.” Authorities are looking for anyone else who may be injured, she said.

Initially, Craig said there were 22 victims, but several victims fled the accident scene and sought help from businesses in the Sonoita area, saying they had been injured in the wreck. Sonoita is about 40 miles southeast of Tucson.

Attorney Commentary

Based on a preliminary analysis of this case, related to the facts listed in the above news coverage, it appears that this was a severe case of negligence on the part of the vehicle’s driver. If this Ford Excursion was in fact carrying a minimum of 23 people at the time of the rollover, there is a very strong possibility that the rollover occurred as the result of extreme overloading of both the vehicle and the tires, as well as altering the handling and suspension geometry of vehicle. Furthermore, there is a high probability that the injuries sustained in this rollover were more severe because while the vehicle was carrying at least 23 people, there was a maximum of 6 seatbelts in this Ford Excursion (rear seat had been removed). According to the report, almost all of the occupants were ejected during the rollover. Vehicle occupants who are not belted and are then ejected during the course of an SUV rollover are far more likely to suffer severe and often fatal head and neck injuries. It must also be mentioned that because of the severe degree of roof crush evident in the accident scene photograph of the Excursion, there is no guarantee that even belted occupants would not have suffered severe or fatal head and neck injuries due to the severe degree of roof pillar failure.

Internal Ford documents: Explorer Rollovers Linked to Engineering

By Peter Whoriskey – Washington Post – Saturday, May 8, 2010

These days, federal safety investigators are scrutinizing Toyota, seeking the elusive causes behind hundreds of reports of unintended acceleration.

But a decade ago, the federal safety agencies were facing another high-profile technical mystery: More than 100 people had died in Ford Explorers. Was it faulty Firestone tires or was the Explorer itself too prone to rollover?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration eventually sided with the automaker, blaming the tires and rejecting charges that the popular sport-utility vehicle was unstable.

But previously unreported internal Ford documents dredged up in lawsuits since then conflict with the finding that only tires were to blame and call into question the agency’s decision not to open a full investigation into the Explorer. The Ford memos show that the company’s own engineers had discovered potential dangers in two key Explorer features, its suspension and roof strength, that could make the vehicle especially lethal during a blowout.

After an investigation into 50 Explorer crashes in Venezuela, for example, company engineers concluded that they should replace customers’ shock absorbers to “save lives.” They did, but only in Venezuela. Explorer engineers also twice sought official deviations from the company’s own standards for roof strength, a factor that critics say made the cars more lethal in rollover accidents.

In response, Ford says that the Explorer complied with all federal safety standards, and that the engineers in Venezuela were only exploring one of many theories for the crashes. But the documents, which Ford has sought to keep from becoming public, indicate that it was hardly a clear-cut case.

“The whole thing just screamed greed,” said La Rita Morales, part of a jury in California that earlier this year awarded an Explorer driver $23.4 million in damages. “I didn’t believe in my heart that a company like Ford would put out a product with question marks over it.”

NHTSA officials now say they were aware of the issue with the shock absorbers and discussed the crashes with Venezuelan government officials. Ford says they turned the relevant documents over NHTSA. But in an echo of the Toyota controversy, which has led to another call in Washington for safety reform, the federal agency declined in 2002 to open a formal investigation into the Ford Explorer, just as it had declined for years to open investigations into the Toyota complaints of unintended acceleration.

* * *

Even 10 years ago, NHTSA had some reason to be skeptical of the idea that the tires were the sole cause of Explorer accidents. While Ford was pointing the finger at Firestone’s tires, the tiremaker was pointing back, blaming the Explorer for rolling over too easily in blowouts.

Consumer advocates argued that during a blowout, a driver should be able to “pull over, not rollover.” An analysis by The Post in 2000 showed that even when the Explorer was equipped with Goodyear tires rather than Firestone products, they had a higher rate of tire-related crashes than other SUVs. The head of the House committee investigating the accidents, Rep. W. J. “Billy” Tauzin, said that NHTSA data warranted further scrutiny of the Explorer’s handling.

But Ford officials were adamant. “It bears repeating: This is a tire issue and only a tire issue,” Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser testified at a House committee hearing in June 2001.

Yet according to the documents, Ford’s recognition of a problem dates back at least to 1999, when Ford engineers investigating Explorer crashes in Venezuela found a problem with the Explorer’s stability. In a hard shift, “the truck tends to roll over,” according to the report of one of the engineers, Edivia Caballero.

She listed the shock absorber as a “root cause” of the Explorer crashes in Venezuela, along with bad tires and the fact that the Explorer is taller and narrower than other trucks.

Ford issued a bulletin to replace the shock absorbers on Explorers in Venezuela, according to the documents. This change of shocks in Venezuela “will save lives”, according to one Ford e-mail. But the automaker did not offer customers new shocks in the United States.

In response, Ford says that the engineers who wrote the memos about the shocks were just speculating about the cause of the accidents.

As for why the company, based on mere speculation, would give Venezuelan customers new shock absorbers at an estimated cost of $3 million, Ford says the shock absorbers were changed to accommodate Venezuelan drivers who preferred a firmer ride.

“The roads are different in Venezuela, the drivers load them up more, and they drive very fast,” said Ford spokesman Said Deep.

* * *

The other potential Explorer problem discussed in the memos is the strength of the roof. Many experts blame the deaths in rollover crashes to a phenomenon known as “roof crush.”

At the time, vehicle roofs were required by federal standards to stand up to 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight. It was called the “strength-to-weight” ratio.

Internal Ford guidelines called for a ratio of 1.875 in order to add a margin of safety. That way, even with variations in sheet metal strength and other production variables, Ford roofs could pass the federal standard.

Bur Explorer’s engineers twice requested and received official “deviations” from that company standard, first dropping to a ratio of 1.72 and then 1.63. This allowed Explorers with weaker roofs to pass the tests.

Then in June 1999, engineers tested another Explorer. The roof strength was lower than they had expected — it was 1.52– just above the federal guidelines, but almost completely without the margin of safety that other Ford vehicles had. It was just over the federal guideline, and by some tests, the weakest of the best-selling SUVs. It was also far lower than current federal standard, which was last year doubled to 3. The engineers at the time appear to have been startled.

“The max load numbers experienced were less than expected,” a Ford engineer wrote to colleagues in 1999. “We need to make a concerted effort to quickly find out why.”

The roof has “a less than desirable safety margin,” another engineer said.

Ford officials noted recently that no Ford Explorer has failed the federal standard for roof crush. They said the lowest of the roof tests were conducted on prototype vehicles and do not indicate how production vehicles would perform.

* * *

After months of study in 2001, NHTSA dismissed Firestone’s complaints that the Explorer had a problem with “over-steering” in a blowout. In a lengthy report, NHTSA found that in that respect the Explorer was no worse than other SUVs on the market. There would be no formal investigation of the Explorer.

“NHTSA didn’t open the investigation because it wasn’t asking the right question,” said Richard Denney, an Oklahoma attorney for victims in Explorer cases. “They do some good work, but they don’t have the resources.”

As he and other plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued to juries, sometimes successfully, the problem in the Explorer is not oversteering but a phenomenon known as “skate” caused by vibrations in the rear axle — vibrations that can occur when a tire blows out.

After the controversy, Ford made critical changes to the Explorer. For the 2002 model year, the distance between the wheels was widened by about three inches, making it less prone to roll over. Critically, independent rear suspension was added.

NHTSA, meanwhile, continued to grapple with Explorer complaints and crashes.

Five years ago, Stephen M. Forrest, a California engineer who testifies in Explorer cases, called the roofs into question and asked NHTSA to investigate. The agency declined, citing, among other things, limited resources and the fact that none of the vehicles had actually failed the test.

Then, in March 2006, the Explorer again seems to have aroused the agency’s interest. It asked Ford for information on deaths in Ford Explorers from late 2000 t0 2005. It did not open an investigation.

Even after the Firestone tires were recalled, tire-related deaths in Ford Explorers of that era continued.  After skyrocketing in 2000 to 81, tire-related deaths in Explorers have averaged 49 over the last five years of records.

The statistics were compiled by Randy Whitfield and Alice Whitfield, experts who work with plaintiffs’ attorneys. A Ford spokesman did not dispute the counts but said that the federal statistics cited by the Whitfields do not accurately count tire-related deaths.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and others have repeatedly tested the Ford Explorer,” said Ford spokesman Deep. “All of those tests consistently showed that the Explorer is a safe vehicle.” We have always maintained that it is safe.”