GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/autos/air-bag-inflator-ruptures-driver-killed-in-pasco-county/2331768


Air bag inflator ruptures, driver killed in Pasco County

By Times staff and wires
Honda says a driver near Tampa has died in a crash that involved an exploding Takata air bag inflator. [Associated Press]

DETROIT — Automaker Honda says a driver from Pasco County died in a crash earlier this month that involved an exploding Takata air bag inflator.

The crash occurred July 19 in Holiday. The automaker said local authorities were investigating the crash and have not determined whether the inflator explosion caused the death.

Honda and investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration inspected the Accord on Thursday and determined that the driver's inflator ruptured, according to Honda.

Nichol Lynn Barker, 34, of Holiday died in the crash, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The cause of her death was blunt head trauma, according to Bill Pellan, director of forensic investigations at the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. The source of that trauma was not identified.

The Highway Patrol said it is still investigating the crash, but said deployment of the Accord's airbag was "consistent with previous Takata airbag events."

Honda said in a statement that it sent 21 mailed notices to the owners of the Accord involved in the accident starting in 2011, including 10 to the current registered owner. But company records show the recall repair had not been made even though Honda says it has parts available.

The company says it also tried "numerous times" to reach the owners of the Accord by email and telephone.

If the air bag caused the death, it would be the 19th worldwide and 13th in the U.S. blamed on the inflators.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force and blow apart a metal canister, spewing shrapnel. The defective inflators have touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history involving 42 million vehicles and 69 million inflators. More than 100 million have been recalled worldwide.

The company offered sympathy to the victim's family, and it urged owners of recalled vehicles to get them repaired as soon as possible.

As of June, only one-third of the 2.3 million defective airbags in Florida were replaced, while two-thirds of the 46.2 million Takata airbags around the country remained on the streets. Sen. Bill Nelson raised concerns at the time about the pace, pointing to the lack of a leader at the Highway Traffic Safety Administration then as a major factor.

"We've got to pick up the pace on boosting production of replacement inflators and assisting consumers who need to get their vehicles fixed," Sen. Bill Nelson said in the June news release.

Older vehicles, especially those from the 2001 to 2003 model years, pose a greater danger of injuring or killing people. Honda says it has enough replacement inflators available to repair all cars and will do so at no cost to owners.

Takata filed for bankruptcy June 26, just days after Honda denied knowing of the issue in years prior and covering it up.

To see if your car is affected, visit https://tinyurl.com/l4fl4dh.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.