Automotive News | December 13, 2010 – 12:01 am EST
In 2006, a 4-year-old Texas girl died of severe burns when the 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by her mother was hit from behind by another car and burst into flames, police and autopsy reports show.
Cassidy Jarmon, who was strapped into a car seat in the back, had second- and third-degree burns on 45 percent of her body, including her scalp, face, neck, chest and back. All the hair on her head was gone.
Yet this accident was not in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database as a fire crash.
The agency’s record of the accident says “No Fire,” according to a copy of its Fatality Analysis Reporting System document.
NHTSA won’t say why the crash apparently was miscoded, citing its ongoing safety-defect investigation of the fuel-tank position in 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
But the omission means investigators may not count the accident or consider its circumstances when deciding whether to order a recall of the vehicles, a consumer group says.
“Exactly how many more crashes such as these are miscoded?” the Center for Auto Safety asked in an October letter to NHTSA. It cited several fatal fire crashes involving the Jeep Grand Cherokees that weren’t in the agency’s database.
NHTSA is investigating whether the fuel tank, which is behind the rear axle and extends under the rear bumper in 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, is a safety defect.
The Jarmon crash occurred in February 2006 when Cassidy’s mother Jennifer stopped on a two-lane state highway in Cleburne, Texas, and tried to turn into a parking lot, the police report said.
Her red Jeep Grand Cherokee was hit from behind by a white 2001 Chevrolet Lumina, which submarined under the Jeep.
Cassidy’s parents sued Chrysler and the Lumina driver, Delbert Davidson. The court settlements reached are confidential.
Chrysler faulted Davidson. “This was a tragic and extremely severe high-energy crash caused by an inattentive driver,” Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said last week. He said Davidson was driving 66 mph. The speed limit was 60 mph.
Davidson, now 74, said in an interview last week that the Jeep pulled out in front of him and stopped suddenly.
“I didn’t have time enough to react,” he said.
Davidson said he was driving 55 mph. A witness interviewed by police said Davidson was driving within the speed limit.