LOCAL couple files complaint against automaker over problem with their Jeep Grand Cherokee

Tuesday, July 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Auto safety experts are investigating complaints about the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The complaints center around transmission troubles and it's a potentially dangerous problem that hits home for one Oklahoma couple.

KOTV’s Diane White has their story. Gloria Winn: “I came over here to see my cousin that lives on the hill." A visit Gloria Winn will never forget. Two years ago, she drove up this gravel road off Highway 51 near Mannford - in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. "I had parked it right about there - far enough back that I could swing the gate open. I put it in park, I unfastened my seat belt and opened the door, got out of the car, shut the door and I started walking." Norman Ward: “I tried to get her attention." Gloria: “And I notice they were yelling and waving their arms." Norman: “I was whistling, hollering, waving - everything I could think of." Gloria: "And I thought, what's wrong with them. And they were pointing like that so I turned around, that jeep was going across there. I couldn't believe it." Couldn't believe it was speeding across highway 51 - in reverse. Norman: “It just took off and it hit that bar ditch over there, that's about 4 foot down, pulled over that and went right on over the hill. Gloria: “I heard the crash, so I went over there and it had dropped down this embankment and hit this tree." Amazingly, it didn't hit any other cars. Joe Winn: “This is the jeep, this is the tree it hit."

Joe Winn took pictures of his wife's jeep, before a tow truck took it away. "Actually it doesn't look like much damage, but this is all buckled." He called Daimler-Chrysler, they sent an inspector. "This gentleman came over. He made an inspection but he never contacted us." Two weeks later - a letter arrived. In the letter, the investigator said the manufacturer was not responsible and said "Therefore we must respectfully decline participation with any costs associated with this incident." Gloria: “If there wasn't anything wrong with the jeep, why did it do that?" Gloria says the investigator insisted Gloria accidentally put it in reverse before she got out of the car. Her cousin - who saw it happen, disagrees. Norman: “It sat there, to give her time to walk 25 feet - then that thing just dropped into gear."

The Winns didn't give up and filed a complaint with the National Highway Transportation Safety Association. So did dozens of other drivers -many with the same complaint. They'd put the vehicle in park - often getting out of it, and then the vehicle would spontaneously flip into reverse gear. Now, 2 years later, the NHTSA is investigating 1995 - 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokees. It's sending an official notice to Daimler-Chrysler, giving the company 120 days to respond. "I thought, well, it's happened to other jeeps too." Gloria: “It could have been a serious thing if somebody had been killed. It could have been very serious." And she's relieved safety experts are taking it seriously by trying to find out what really happened two years ago on Highway 51.

KOTV called Daimler Chrysler Tuesday about the investigation. A spokesperson told KOTV: "We are cooperating with the NHTSA investigation. We do not believe there is any problem with the transmission on the ‘95 – ‘99 Grand Cherokee." The company also said the investigation involves less than 50 complaints and it believes that number will drop.