Five deaths reported since Firestone recall

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Although Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has replaced 2.2 million of its recalled tires so far, the massive effort isn't going fast enough to prevent new highway fatalities allegedly caused when the company's tires failed.

Since Bridgestone/Firestone launched the recall of 6.5 million tires Aug. 9, at least five deaths have occurred on the nation's highways in which treads reportedly separated from Firestone tires mounted on Ford Motor Co. Explorer sport-utility vehicles.

Those deaths are in addition to 88 fatalities in the U.S. over the past decade that allegedly are linked to Firestone tires, mainly on Explorers.

The accidents are being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Firestone and Ford have sped up the replacement program, which is expected to be completed by late November.

The companies continue to replace 70,000 to 90,000 tires a day.

"This is probably one of the fastest recalls in history," said Ford president and chief executive Jacques Nasser in testimony earlier this week before the Senate Commerce Committee, one of several congressional bodies probing the tire recall.

NHTSA said it expects to release updated figures on the numbers of deaths and injuries resulting from the tire failures next week.

But conversations with plaintiffs' lawyers and law-enforcement officers across the country make it clear that the numbers are certain to be higher than the agency's current estimates.

The continuing deaths offer a reminder of the human costs exacted by the tire failures.

The victims include Gary Steven Haas, 47, a prominent Florida pediatric heart surgeon who died Aug. 15 on a deserted stretch of Texas highway as he drove his 19-year-old son, who survived the crash, to college; former small-town police chief Garry Lynn Meek, 56, and his 13-year-old granddaughter, Amy, who were killed Aug. 16 as the family returned from a vacation in Wyoming; and 10-year-old Mark Anthony Rodriguez, who was killed Sept. 3 after his father's Ford Explorer flipped over as the family drove to Laredo, Texas, to visit a sick aunt.

The exact circumstances of the crashes, all of which have been linked to faulty Firestone tires on Ford Explorers, vary widely.

Firestone, for its part, insists that the recall is proceeding as fast as possible.

The company has been airlifting tires into the U.S. from Japan, home of Bridgestone Corp., its parent, and recently agreed to reimburse Explorer owners who want to buy replacement tires from other manufacturers rather than wait for tires from Firestone.

The spillover has boosted the revenue of Firestone competitors.

"We've pulled out all of the stops," said Firestone executive vice president John Lampe.

Mr. Lampe added that he was concerned about the large number of recalled tires that remained on the road.

"I am pleased with all that we've done to speed the efforts," he said.