NEW YORK - It started with a story from WPTV's Scripps sister station in Phoenix, about a 17 year-old Arizona girl who died after a crash in Payson early this year.
Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirms that it has opened an investigation into 730,000 model year 2001-2004 Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes with 3 liter, six cylinder engines whose throttles may stick and could lead to a crash.
The federal investigation is focusing on "the potential failure of the throttle to return to idle when the accelerator pedal has been released in certain Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute vehicles. "
The agency says that it has found 99 complaints about this problem, 13 crashes, 9 injuries and one death.
The agency's summary of its investigation includes a reference to one death that occurred in January, 2012. Saige Bloom died after a crash in Payson, Arizona on January 27, 2012 when her car accelerated out of control.
The ABC15 Investigators found that Ford had issued a safety recall involving the accelerator cable on 2002-2004 Escapes – including the one Saige was driving the day she died.
In December 2004, Ford sent a recall notice to Escape owners, stating that the problem could cause "elevated engine speeds" and even a "vehicle crash."
Ten months later, Ford sent out an update to that repair to dealers -- but not Ford owners.
In the documents sent to dealers, Ford writes that the reason for the update is "to inform dealers that updated illustrations and a warning have been added to the technical instructions…to help prevent damage to the speed control cable while performing the accelerator cable replacement procedure."
One attachment says "Caution" and shows a "CORRECT" and two "INCORRECT" illustrations involving removing the accelerator cable.
The update went to dealers in October 2005, 10 months after the recall was first announced. Records show that by that time, more than 300,000 of the affected Escapes had already been repaired.
Those owners had their SUVs repaired without the new warning and instructions from Ford.
Records show that Saige Bloom's Escape also had an accelerator cable recall repair before the new instructions went to dealers.
NHTSA's summary of its investigation highlights the updated repair instructions, saying "some of the complaints also allege that the failures may have been related to repairs performed as part of safety recalls initiated in 2004."
The agency says its investigation will "assess the scope, frequency and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect."