Congress To Probe Tire Execs


Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — What did Bridgestone/Firestone executives know about tread problems with some of their company's tires, and when did they know it?

Congressional staffers prepared to ask those question and many others Monday when they meet officials at the tire company's headquarters and find out more about the Firestone's Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires.

The visit is part of an investigation into tires that have prompted hundreds of complaints including allegations of at least 62 highway-related deaths and 100 injuries.

Bridgestone/Firestone recalled about 6.5 million P235/75R15 size Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, often found on Ford Explorers, on Aug. 9.

Jon Tripp, deputy communications director for the House Commerce Committee, said investigators are seeking documents and information to be used at congressional hearings planned on the tires.

``It's part of an ongoing investigation into who knew what and when they knew it,'' Tripp said Sunday night. Committee investigators asked the same questions Friday of executives of Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich.

One of the congressional staffers, Tom DiLenge, declined Friday to characterize what investigators found in Dearborn, but called Ford executives ``very helpful.''

Meanwhile, authorities in Venezuela plan to submit paperwork to that nation's attorney general that would open Ford and Bridgestone to criminal prosecution in Venezuela, The Wall Street Journal reported in Monday's editions.

Venezuela's consumer-affairs agency also said they plan to fine both companies after an investigation found the tire maker and automaker responsible for traffic accidents in Venezuela, the newspaper said.

Ford has already begun replacing Firestone tires, including 16-inch ones, for free on vehicles sold in Venezuela and the Middle East. The company said problems there were related to misuse — deflating the tires to drive on sand, for example.

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is conducting its own investigation into the accidents. The Senate Commerce Committee has invited Ford and Firestone officials to testify at a Sept. 6 hearing on the tires.

Bridgestone/Firestone officials announced Friday it will hire independent experts to analyze accidents that have been linked to the Firestone tires. They said the company is committed to finding out what, if any, problems may have led to the accidents.

On the Net:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com