By Sean Mussenden and Mark Matthews
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland this week recorded its first fatalities linked to faulty Bridgestone/Firestone tires, a review of complaints sent to the federal government’s safety agency has found.
The two fatalities – among 148 recorded nationwide – were listed in the most recent update of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database of complaints released Wednesday.
The recall of certain brands of Firestone tires – mainly those installed as original equipment on Ford Explorers – began in August and is now in its fifth month.
Drivers have reported 4,300 complaints of tire failure to NHTSA and more than 525 injuries. Maryland recorded 72 complaints and at least nine injuries. Most of the accidents occurred while the vehicle was travelling at high speed and the tread separated from the body of one or more tires.
Maryland complaints ranged from graphic descriptions of fatal accidents to reports of minor tread separation, cracks or wear, according to records reviewed by Capital News Service.
While the two fatalities were reported from Maryland, it is unknown whether they actually occurred in the state because accident locations were not listed on the NHTSA forms.
The most recent fatal accident reported from Maryland occurred Aug. 4, 1999, when a tread separated from the right rear Firestone tire on a 1996 Ford Explorer.
The separation, “also caused vehicle to overturn and eject four passengers,” according to the complaint. “There was one fatality, two severe injuries, and one moderate injury. . .”
According to state Motor Vehicle Administration records, the Explorer’s last owners were Blanca Seferina Arriola, 50, and Israel Santiago Montilla, 19, both of Hyattsville. Neither could be reached for comment Friday.
The other fatal accident reported from Maryland occurred Oct. 22, 1996, when a 1994 Ford Explorer with Firestone tires, “rolled over 5 times,” according to the complaint. The accident killed one. A representative of, “the husband of the deceased” filed the complaint.
According to the online vehicle history service Carfax, the Explorer was last registered in Woodstock, Va., on July 24, 1996, three months before the accident.
An October update of the NHTSA tire complaints database listed two other Maryland fatalities, but they were misreported. Capital News Service found that those two deaths were pets, resulting in NHTSA changing its figures and creating a new category in its records.
As of Wednesday’s update, the two pets discovered by CNS – a German shepherd named Orion and a black Persian cat named Anastasia that belonged to an Andrew Cavaseno of Gaithersburg – were the only animal deaths reported to NHTSA. The animals were in Cavaseno’s 1998 Mercury Mountaineer in Louisiana when a Firestone tire failed, overturning the vehicle.
While tire exchanges still continue under the recall, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has said he is satisfied with the progress. The company’s earlier, staggered, recall angered Curran, who demanded immediate attention for the state. But the state will remain vigilant, Curran’s spokesman said. “We’re still looking at the matter, it’s not something that is completely behind us,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Gruhn.
Bridgestone/Firestone also is satisfied with the recall’s progress. Chairman and CEO John T. Lampe issued a statement on the company’s Web site saying, “When we initiated this effort in August, everyone believed it might take at least a year to reach this point. But 13,000 Firestone dealers, thousands and thousands of Bridgestone/Firestone employees, along with our associates at the Ford Motor Company, have worked hard to do the job faster than anyone believed possible.”
NHTSA, which put pressure on the company to initiate the recall after years of receiving consumer complaints, did not view the recall the same way.
“We have not received a quarterly report (on the recall from Firestone), so we really have no idea how they are doing,” said one NHTSA official, who declined to give her name.