By Sean Mussenden and Mark Matthews
WASHINGTON – Media outlets across the country are reporting this week that 103 fatalities have been linked to faulty Firestone tires. What they aren’t reporting, and did not know until now, is that some of those killed were animals, not people.
Documents obtained by Capital News Service show that in at least one fatal Firestone tire-related accident listed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the only victims were two animals, not humans. The complaint report is not specific about the type of animal that died in the crash.
More than 400 injuries and 103 deaths were found among the 2,226 complaints of Firestone tire failure the agency had received by September 15.
NHTSA said Wednesday it will immediately correct what it called an “honest data entry error” found by CNS.
Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said the agency has revised its death toll from 103 to 101, and will review its records over the next few weeks for any other pet deaths mistakenly reported as human fatalities.
Three other NHTSA employees confirmed the mistake that led to the inflated number.
“I’ve only seen one other case since I’ve been here. It’s extremely rare,” said Richard Boyd, an employee in NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation.
Counting animal deaths in accident fatality figures is “something that’s been done before,” said Derrick Lewis, another NHTSA employee.
The accident in question occurred June 18, 2000, on Interstate 12 in Louisiana en route to Maryland when the Firestone Wilderness tires on a 1998 Mercury Mountaineer failed, causing the vehicle to spin one complete revolution and slam into a tree.
“Vehicle was total loss and two animals perished,” said the vehicle owner’s questionnaire submitted to NHTSA. The owners said property damage in the accident totaled $100,000.
An Internet search using the Mountaineer’s vehicle identification number confirmed the Louisiana motor vehicle department declared the vehicle a total loss.
The owners, who were not identified in the report, were rushed to a Louisiana hospital. The extent of their injuries is unknown.
Firestone said the database error is a symptom of a larger problem.
“It’s what we’ve been explaining to folks – NHTSA doesn’t scrub its data. They don’t have the capacity to investigate it very thoroughly. . . ,” said Christine Karbowiak, Firestone spokeswoman.
Mike Vaughn, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., did not criticize NHTSA for releasing misleading information to the public.
“It’s still an accident, and it’s regrettable,” Vaughn said.
CNS discovered the discrepancy while researching a story on Maryland accidents linked to the faulty Firestone tires.
The NHTSA database, which was updated Wednesday, shows 29 Firestone tire failures have been now reported in Maryland, more than double the number since the last NHTSA update. Two fatalities also were added to Maryland’s total during the latest update, but those turned out to be the animal deaths. Maryland’s number of injuries grew from two to five in the latest report.
– 30 – CNS-09-20-00