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Parents sue Firestone in daughter's death

The FSU student was killed when she was thrown from her SUV.

Claire Kantor and her sorority sisters were headed south after spending two days of spring break soaking up sun at the beach, visiting the Salvador Dali Museum and relaxing in St. Petersburg.

But while on Interstate 75 in Manatee County March 5, the tread on their GMC Suburban's Firestone tire separated. The sport utility vehicle veered into the median and flipped twice.

Ms. Kantor, 19, a Florida State University student who authorities said was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the car and killed.

At first, her devastated parents didn't question the accident's cause. But months later, they say they discovered why the tire failed.

Seymour and Jill Kantor believe the Suburban's Firestone tire was flawed, and on Wednesday, they sued the company, which has recalled millions of tires in the last two months. The tire on the Suburban was similar to the recalled tires, but was a slightly different size and not part of the recall.

"I'm honestly very angry and feel tremendous pain at the senseless of it," Seymour Kantor said through tears. "I'm very bitter about Firestone." Since Aug. 9, almost 8-million Firestone tires used on sport utility vehicles and light trucks have been recalled. Officials with Bridgestone/Firestone recently apologized to the American public and vowed to find the cause of the problem. They could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Federal investigators still are looking into what role, if any, the tires had in 88 deaths and more than 250 injuries.

Recent national reports indicate the company had data pointing to tire safety problems years before the recall. The Kantors' attorney, Greg Barnhart of West Palm Beach, said the company also had received complaints about the same tires that were on the Suburban.

"Firestone had knowledge," Barnhart said. "This never should have happened. These tires should have been recalled."

The Kantors moved to Florida from South Africa when both children were young. Claire Kantor grew to love all types of art before she headed to college, where she had a 3.6 grade point average. She had planned to live with her sorority sisters her sophomore year.

On March 5, the day of the accident, the five FSU students were driving to North Miami Beach to spend a couple of days with the Kantors and then to the Florida Keys to finish their spring break.

The right rear tire blew out near the Linger Lodge Road overpass. The driver, Dorothy Stephens, 18, of Treasure Island, and the three other passengers suffered minor injures.

In addition to Firestone, the Kantor's lawsuit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court was filed against Tire Kingdom and Ms. Stephens. The owners of the car, John Stephens, the driver's father, and his company, Bama Sea Products Inc. also sued.

According to the lawsuit, the GMC had been inspected and serviced by Tire Kingdom on Tyrone Boulevard the day before the accident.

The front two tires were replaced with Michelin tires, but the rear two remained Firestone.