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Local victim of Takata airbag explosion comes forward as recall expands

TAMPA — On a Thursday afternoon in April, Tiffany Vu was on her way to the gym on U.S. 301 when the driver in front of her stopped suddenly.

She swerved, clipping the back bumper of the other vehicle with her 2004 Honda Accord. It should have been a minor fender bender. Instead, the 27-year old medical billing specialist was rushed to the hospital, where paramedics tried to remove shards of metal that embedded in her arm, chest and hand after her airbag exploded.

Vu is described by her attorney as the first local victim to come forward in what has grown into the largest automotive recall in the country's history, impacting an estimated one in four vehicles. Worldwide, at least 11 people have died and 100 have been injured by airbags made by Japan-based Takata Corp.

"My hand was gushing (blood) like a water fountain," Vu told reporters at a press conference held Wednesday afternoon by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in Tampa.

A report released Wednesday by the Senate showed the airbag crisis extends beyond used cars, disclosing that at least four automakers are selling new vehicles equipped with the potentially deadly Takata airbag inflators, like the one in Vu's car. Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"This is something that was supposed to protect her," Nelson, a Democrat, said of the airbag.

Investigators have found the Takata airbag inflator is prone to rupture, presenting a potential danger to drivers and passengers.

So far, 17 car and truck companies are recalling as many as 69 million Takata inflators in the U.S. alone.

Florida is listed with a handful of other states as being a "priority region" by the NHTSA because older vehicles exposed to hot and humid conditions are considered more susceptible to failure.

Concerned drivers can enter their vehicle identification number into NHTSA.gov to see if their vehicle falls under the recall.

"This is a continuing saga," Nelson said. "It is absolutely ridiculous that the American consumer can buy a new car today and not know that it will be recalled in two years."

Some Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volkswagen vehicles from the 2016 and 2017 model years are equipped with the Takata parts.

Mitsubishi and Volkswagen identified the new models that have potentially defective Takata inflators. They include the 2016 Volkswagen CC, 2016 Audi TT, 2017 Audi R8, and the 2016 and 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Toyota and Fiat Chrysler did not specify models.

According to the report, Toyota said it expects to make about 175,000 unspecified vehicles with defective Takata inflators from March 2016 to July 2017.

Fiat Chrysler has only one new model with the inflators, which spokesman Eric Mayne declined to identify. "These vehicles are not currently subject to recall. They meet or exceed all applicable safety requirements," Mayne said in an email.

The report says recall completion rates remain low. As of March, Honda led with almost 40 percent of inflators replaced, while Daimler Vans had completed only 0.4 percent.

Vu is a nationally ranked weightlifter who hopes to go to the Olympics in 2020. The injury has set back her training, she said, especially since she still has a piece of metal in her hand that "sends shooting pain up my arm" during certain exercises.

She said she plans to sue Honda and Takata.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press. Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.

Local victim of Takata airbag explosion comes forward as recall expands 06/01/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 9:00pm]
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