Ford under fire after inspection of deadly Arizona crash

PHOENIX - NEW information: Ford speaks after Arizona crash story

A major automaker is under fire following a 17-year-old girl's death in a 2002 Ford Escape last January.

In May, the ABC15 Investigators at our sister station, KNXV in Phoenix, uncovered a Ford document that has raised questions about a potential safety risk that could involve hundreds of thousands of Escapes.

Now, we have new information about what may have led to the tragic accident in Payson, Ariz., – and what the government could do to warn consumers.

DEADLY ARIZONA CRASH

Saige Bloom's last act was to avoid hurting anyone else as her 2002 Ford Escape accelerated out of control.

Police reports and eyewitnesses describe how she wove through traffic, narrowly missing other drivers – until she couldn't.

Her SUV hit another car, rolled three times and Saige was thrown from the vehicle. She died in a hospital hours later.

Her mother, Jamie Bloom, was following Saige as she drove the car for the first time home to Payson. Jamie talked to her daughter, then called 911.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! What do I do with her?" she frantically asked the 911 operator. "We're coming up to a red light and I don't know what to do for her because she cannot stop!"

"She was pushing on the brakes. I can smell it burning and she cannot stop," Jamie told the dispatcher.

Police reports show the car's accelerator was "all the way down to the floor" after the accident.

Officers also found that the console next to the accelerator pedal had "scratch marks in the plastic," that "would be consistent with someone slamming their foot on the gas pedal," the report said.

The report further states that Saige "had Nike tennis shoes on" and that "she would have had to use some force to create those marks."

The Bloom's attorney, Bob Boatman, believes Saige was, "kicking the pedal, trying to dislodge it, in her mind."

After clearing the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 and "narrowly [passing] through traffic" at the next intersection, police reports show the Escape hit a grey sedan and flipped three times.

Saige was ejected from the car, where she lay on the street, bleeding and "struggling to breathe," the report said, until emergency crews took her to the hospital where she died.

"You know, when time stops and you just say 'God let her be okay,' "Saige's father, Ryan Bloom said, "that's what I kept telling myself the whole time."

"I just sit and think, I wish I could see her again," he said.

A POSSIBLE INCORRECT REPAIR

Despite repeated requests by ABC15, Ford won't comment specifically on the accident.

The company sent the ABC15 Investigators a statement in response to an earlier ABC15 report in May.

Read Ford's full statement to the ABC15 Investigators below.

But the ABC15 Investigators discovered 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 the Escape Saige Bloom drove to her death also had an accelerator cable recall repair before the new instructions went to dealers.

A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION

If repaired incorrectly, the document shows that mechanics could create "damage to the throttle body cam…if the throttle body cam is rotated by lifting up on the speed control cable."

Ford's updated repair warns against technicians lifting up on that speed control cable while making the repair. According to Bill Williams, an expert hired by the Bloom's attorney, an incorrect repair could cause the plastic cover on it to break and the cable to become loose.

He said if a driver accelerates fast enough, that loose cable can stick under a rib in the engine cover above it. That could leave the throttle open – and the car traveling at very high speeds.

Bloom attorney

Bob Boatman and Williams say what Ford warned its dealers against in the repair update --  damage to the speed control cable -- is exactly what they say they found in the Escape Saige Bloom was driving.

THE INSPECTION

In a police impound lot in Payson, lawyers and

inspectors for both Ford and the Blooms recently gathered to examine the SUV Saige was driving the day she died. They had been careful to inspect what's under the hood of this car before it was moved out of the impound lot.

As he snaked a small camera on the end of a wire through the engine of the wrecked Escape, Bloom inspector Bill Williams was careful not to damage any potential evidence.

He captured video that he says shows the speed control cable broken, lodged under the engine cover, and the throttle stuck wide open.

Williams measured it on the scene to be about 85% open – which he said means the car was traveling at very high speeds. Police reports show that officers observed Saige's car "traveling at a high rate of speed." One officer estimated the vehicle speed to be about 70 miles per hour.

Once the cable becomes lodged in the engine cover, "there's nothing the driver can do to un-jam it from inside the passenger compartment," Williams said.

A CALL FOR ACTION

Clarence Ditlow with the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C. said the Bloom's inspection was clear because the vehicle hadn't been moved since it was impounded and technology allowed an examination of the speed control cable.

"This is one of the clearest demonstrations I've ever seen of a safety defect in a vehicle," Ditlow said. "This is a problem that is not behind us, it's in the future."

He's so concerned about the hundreds of thousands of other Escapes that could be on the road right now with an incorrect repair, his organization filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pushing for a second recall of the affected Escapes.

It calls for the agency to hold a hearing "regarding whether Ford reasonably met their obligation to notify owners and correct the defect at issue" in this recall and requests that NHTSA open an investigation into all 2002-2004 Escapes with similar designs.

So far, the Blooms have not filed a lawsuit and regulators haven't made any determinations involving the accident.

Ford's attorneys did not want our cameras at the inspection scene last month and their inspector said nothing.

Ford issued the following statement to the ABC15 Investigators:

"We offer our deepest sympathies to the Bloom family for their tragic loss. We are in the midst of our investigation, and we have not reached any conclusions. We will work closely with NHTSA to determine the cause of the crash and will take appropriate action if warranted by the outcome of the investigation."

If you're driving on the affected Escapes, Ford says if you bring it in for service, the updated dealer notice remains in their system indefinitely, allowing dealers to check on recommended repairs.

But Joan Claybrook, former head of NHTSA and auto safety advocate, thinks Ford should have to give some answers to the federal government because it didn't send a second notice to owners.

"They didn't warn them properly because they never sent the letter they sent to NHTSA and to their dealers," she said, "They never sent that letter to the consumer."

If Ford is found to have violated the NHTSA statute for failure to recall, Claybrook believes Ford could be subject to civil fines.

She can't understand why a second notice wasn't issued to owners.  "I'm just outraged that Ford would behave that way," she said.

To Williams, it's a problem that is waiting to happen in any Escape that could have gotten an incorrect repair.

"I know that there is more out there that are running around with that bind in there," he said, "just waiting for the right circumstance to happen."

They are circumstances he said came together like a perfect storm that day in January when Saige Bloom died.

The Bloom family wants all drivers to know what you can do if a car is accelerating out of control. Experts say the best way to stop the vehicle if brakes aren't stopping it, is to put the gear in neutral. That, and use of the car's emergency lights, should allow the driver to steer the car to safety.

 

FORD MOTOR COMPANY STATEMENT:

Ford is committed to informing our customers when any issues arise involving vehicle safety. In Dec. 2004, Ford issued a recall for 470,245 2002-2004 MY Escape SUVs to replace the accelerator cable. This included all Escape SUVs built from May 30, 2001 through Jan. 23, 2004.

A service bulletin update was shared with dealers on October 6, 2005 to ensure technicians were installing the cables properly. All service actions and updates, like this one, remain in the Ford dealer system indefinitely

or until the fix is completed. This allows dealers to check on any recommended or outstanding repairs when the vehicle is brought in for service.

Escape owners were informed of this recall. Owners with any concerns or questions about this recall are always encouraged to contact our customer relationship center at 1-866-436-7332 with any questions.


 

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