2012 fiery Georgia crash: Columbus attorneys say Chrysler isn't fixing Jeep problem with recall

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 21, 2013 

Columbus attorneys representing the family of a 4-year-old boy killed in a fiery Georgia crash said Chrysler's recall of older model Jeeps is not fixing the problem.

The firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer with offices in Columbus and Atlanta is representing Bryan and Lindsay Walden in the death of their son, Remington Walden, who was killed March 6, 2012, in Bainbridge, Ga. The boy was riding in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee when it was struck in the back and its ruptured fuel tank engulfed the vehicle in flames, killing Remington.

Two days after Chrysler agreed to a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokees models 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002-2007, attorney Jeb Butler said Thursday the company is not actually fixing the problem.

"What Chrysler did on Tuesday is like tying a pillow on the back of a Ford Pinto," Jeb Butler said of the vehicle that was recalled in 1978 over concerns with gas tanks. "It's something Chrysler can do on the cheap to appear to fix a problem that it isn't actually fixing."

In the recall, Chrysler will offer to inspect and, if necessary, replace aftermarket trailer hitches to protect gas tanks from puncture risks.

"That fix that Chrysler proposed would not have even affected the vehicle in which our client's son burned," Jeb Butler said. "Our client's son was in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and pursuant to the terms of the recall Chrysler has announced, Chrysler wouldn't have done anything to that vehicle."

Jeb Butler, the son of attorney Jim Butler, contends the 1999 to 2004 Jeep Cherokees are vehicles that do not have a trailer hitch.

Mike Palese, a Chrysler communications spokesman, wouldn't state how many cases are pending on gas tanks in the older Jeeps.

"We do not talk about pending litigation, but there are a few cases that are out there, including the Walden case, which I believe is Jim Butler's case," Palese said.

The event in Bainbridge was tragic, Palese said. "We feel that was a real tragic event and are very sorry and our deepest sympathy go to the family of the young man who was killed in the crash, but we still believe that the vehicle is a safe vehicle and meets and exceeds all federal standards and has a great safety record," he said.

In a statement, Jim Butler said Chrysler's proposed "agreement" about its bumper tank defect is nonsense.

"The very idea of installing a trailer hitch to protect the rear-mounted fuel tank is a clear admission by Chrysler that the fuel tank location is not just defective and dangerous -- it is stupid," Jim Butler said. "Chrysler put the fuel tanks on these Jeeps in a known crush zone. It's the very place where a tank is most vulnerable to one of the most common kinds of collisions -- rear impact."

In an internal Chrysler memo released by the law firm, the company apparently had concerns in 1978 about the location of fuel tanks. "In vehicles both with and without bumpers there is a concern with vertical height differences that create a mismatch with passenger car bumpers," the memo stated. "Where fuel tank location behind the rear axle is all that is feasible, a protective impact deflection structure may have to be provided whether or not a bumper is provided. An investigation whether to relocate the fuel tank or to provide impact deflecting structures is presently underway."

Jeb Butler said motorists can see fuel tanks located in front of the bumper in Jeeps.

"All you have to do to know this fuel tank location is dangerous is look at it -- right in front of the bumper and hanging below the bumper, obviously vulnerable to rear impact, particularly when the Jeep is hit by a lower-riding vehicle," he said.

The vehicles also are a danger to the person who may collide with the rear end of a Jeep. "They still haven't warned customers these bumper tanks are dangerous," Jeb Butler said.

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