Last month, 67-year-old Lucila Robles was killed in Quemado, Texas when a tractor trailer failed to negotiate a curve and crashed near the dead woman’s home and exploded. The explosion caused the truck to become engulfed in flames, which spread to the home and also to a passing vehicle. Four other victims were also injured in the crash. The truck driver and a passenger managed to escape from the truck before the explosion occurred.
According to police reports, the explosion was so large, that it caused damage to almost a dozen homes in the area, including dislodging doors from hinges and breaking windows. Rubble from the blast, as well as parts of the truck, were found nearly a mile away from the accident site.
What makes this truck crash even more unsettling is what the driver was hauling – a load of used Takata airbag components. The same material which is involved in the massive airbag recall. The airbag components which were being transported in the truck contained ammonium nitrate, an extremely volatile chemical compound.
To understand just how deadly the compound is, ammonium nitrate is what was used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and left almost 700 more injured. More recent disasters include the 2013 West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, which killed 15 people and injured another 160.
In the late nineties, Takata was producing airbag propellants made from the chemical tetrazole. Although it was very effective – and safe – it was also expensive. In 2001, the company made the decision to replace tetrazole with ammonium nitrate, which was one-tenth the cost of tetrazole, but extremely dangerous. Company hierarchy dismissed the warnings of their own engineers who warned of the deadly risks of using ammonium nitrate – putting profit over lives.
And those warnings turned out to be correct. When these airbags deploy, they sometimes do so with such force that the casings which are supposed to hold the collapsed airbag explode and send shards of shrapnel out into the vehicle. Another danger with ammonium nitrate is that it can explode if exposed to hot and humid weather for prolonged periods of time, causing the airbag to dangerously explode.
There are currently at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries linked to the defective airbag. More recalls are still being issued, with more than 100 million vehicles that need to have the dangerous airbags replaced.
And as these dangerous airbags are being replaced, the tragic Texas truck explosion raises the real concern over what type of safety precautions will be put in place regarding how these deadly components are being transported back to the company. U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., have called on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the fatal truck crash, citing concern over Takata’s history of cutting costs for profit.
Our Virginia personal injury lawyers have vast experience in trucking injury cases as well as in handling defective products causing major injuries. We have closely monitored the Takata recall from the beginning and agree with the senators that stringent government oversight is needed regarding how Takata transports and disposes of these defective parts.