Wednesday, September 06, 2000

Execs face grilling


Panel to hear Firestone, Ford officials today

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. officials are expected to tell Congress today that they're doing everything they can to speed up the Firestone tire recall.

        But talk is cheap, according to at least one Tristate-area resident who fears the officials' planned testimony before a House subcommittee will simply result in further delays in replacing the more than 6 million tires that Firestone has voluntarily recalled.

        That figure doesn't include the 1.4 million after-market Firestone tires that federal regulators warned Friday might also be defective.

TRISTATE INJURIES
  Ohio residents have reported to the federal government 25 incidents of blowouts or tread separations in Firestone tires under recall. Many of the incidents occurred at speeds as high as 70 mph.
  However, only two of the Ohio incidents reportedly resulted in injury.
  Kentucky residents reported eight incidents of tire failure, including two that resulted in injuries.
  Indiana residents have reported 10 incidents, including one injury, as a result of accidents attributed to recalled tires.
  The complaints from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky comprise about 3 percent of the total.
  California had the highest number of complaints, 270; Florida, which reported the second-highest total, had 261. Combined with Texas — with the third-highest figure, 221 — the three states had more than 50 percent of the total complaints.
        “You'll have politicians trying to look good on TV, and Ford and Firestone trying to look good in the eyes of the public. In the meantime, I still can't get my tires replaced,” said Sharon Lee, a nursing assistant from Fairfield who said she's been waiting three weeks for replacements.

        She said she drove her 1999 Ford Explorer — the

        vehicle model on which most of the recalled tires were installed — to a Firestone dealer in Kenwood soon after the recall was announced Aug. 9.

        Although the Firestone Wilderness tires on her vehicle were covered by the recall, Ms. Lee said, the Firestone dealer didn't have replacement tires in stock and her name was placed on a waiting list.

        “I was planning to drive to Chicago for Labor Day weekend,” Ms. Lee said. “Instead, I spent the weekend at home because I was afraid to risk a long road trip on those tires.”
       

Regardless of brand

        Ms. Lee might have an option other than waiting.

        Ford says it has authorized dealers to replace Firestone tires on its vehicles with comparable models, regardless of the brand, free.

        Jacques Nasser, president and CEO of Ford, has said that more than 1 million tires have already been recalled.

        Neither Ford nor Firestone officials could be reached for a more precise number of the number of tires recalled in the Tristate.

        At any rate, many of the recalled tires are still on the road.

        And that's reason enough for concern, based on the escalating number of complaints about Firestone tires received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

88 fatalities

        Through Thursday, the federal regulatory agency had received 1,453 complaints nationwide, including more than 250 reported injuries and 88 fatalities, according to a database of complaints on NHTSA's Web site (www.nhtsa.gov).

        Data regarding complaints with or without reported injuries is readily available at the site, which NHTSA said it will update with new complaints on Sept. 18.

        But Firestone has requested that data concerning fatalities be treated as “confidential information,” and “NHTSA is evaluating that request,” according to the Web site.

        At least two lawsuits have been filed in the Tristate over the tires.

        A man who says a blowout caused his sport utility vehicle to roll over, injuring him and a passenger, filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in late August against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co.

        The suit, filed on behalf of Har ry Wernke of Springfield Township, claims that he and his passenger, Dorothy Baker, of Union, were in Mr. Wernke's 2000 Mercury Mountaineer on June 2 when the accident occurred. A tire on the vehicle blew out on dry pavement on Interstate 75 in Tennessee, causing the vehicle to roll several times, the lawsuit says.

        The lawsuit says Mr. Wernke's skull was split when he was dragged across the pavement and Ms. Baker suffered facial injuries and had to have her hand surgically reconstructed.

        Stan Chesley, a Cincinnati lawyer who has filed a federal class action lawsuit against Ford and Firestone, said he has sent letters to members of Congress asking them to ask certain questions of Ford and Firestone officials during their testimony today.

        “I want to know when they knew there were problems, what they knew, what they did about it, and when they first started replacing the tires,” he said. “They haven't disclosed that yet.”

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.
       

       



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