ANNAPOLIS – Orion, a German shepherd, and Anastasia, a black Persian cat, were the animals listed as human fatalities on a federal agency’s database of accidents tied to faulty Firestone tires and Ford vehicles.
The pets were just two of four animals traveling in the vehicle with Andrew and Lisa Cavaseno, who were traveling through Louisiana moving to Maryland when a tire blew on their Mercury Mountaineer, Capital News Service has learned.
The 1998 SUV was packed with personal possessions, entailing a claim of $100,000 in property damage because of the accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration removed the animal “fatalities” from its database last week after an investigation by Capital News Service.
Attempts to reach the Cavasenos were unsuccessful.
NHTSA posted the names of the pets on its Internet site on Sept. 21, after announcing it would drop the number of reported human fatalities from 103 to 101. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights organization, harshly criticized the agency for removing the animal fatalities from the database.
NHTSA announced last week that it will groom its database for misidentified fatalities and other inconsistencies. A spokesman for the agency could not give a completion date for the review, saying a lack of agency resources could hinder it.
“The fact that they would lower the statistic because the lives that were lost were animals other than humans is out of step,” with public opinion, said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in an interview Wednesday.
She called the effort to publicize the names of the deceased animals, “nice,” but likened the agency’s decision to remove the pets from the database to, “other forms of segregation.”
A spokesman for NHTSA, who was not aware that the agency had posted the names on its Internet site, did not know if the names were released because of PETA’s criticism.
PETA, an organization famous for its highly visible and dramatic animal- rights protests, is not planning to formally boycott the agency’s actions, Newkirk said.
“We’ve registered our opinion . . . We’d be surprised if they did it again,” she said.
The accident occurred at 12:15 p.m. on June 18, 2000, on Interstate 12 near Baton Rouge, La., according to NHTSA documents and interviews with three Louisiana law enforcement officers. The left rear Firestone Wilderness tire on the Mountaineer failed, causing the vehicle to spin 360 degrees and rear-end a tree.
A Louisiana State Police accident report shows only two people were in the vehicle during the accident, Lisa and Andrew Cavaseno. The complaint report filed to NHTSA on Sept. 7 referred to the vehicle occupants as spouses.
The state accident record said Lisa Cavaseno is 19. Her husband’s age was not listed, however Trooper Clay Smith, who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident, described him as a “guy in his mid-30s with (longish) brown hair.”
“When I arrived the animals seemed okay to me. They were drinking water,” Trooper Smith said.
Deputy Fred Escher, a local animal control officer who was also at the accident, said four animals were in the vehicle during the accident, two dogs and two cats. One cat ran away shortly after the accident.
The three other animals were transported to a nearby veterinary hospital. Escher could not say whether the missing cat has been found. Nor could he say what happened to the other dog.
The Cavasenos were transported to nearby Slidell Memorial Hospital.