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Grand jury investigates Firestone tires

Feb. 28, 2003 at 11:14 AM   |   Comments

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors in Southern Illinois have subpoenaed documents from lawyers for Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding Co. Inc. and Ford Motor Co. in a possible criminal investigation of tire failures.

Firestone recalled millions of tires in 2000 and 2001 linked to 271 highway deaths and more than 700 injuries. Most of those tires were original equipment on Ford Explorers and may have contributed to rollover accidents involving the world's best-selling sport-utility vehicle.

The Nashville City Paper, in the Tennessee city where Firestone is headquartered, said U.S. Attorney Miriam Miquelon had subpoenaed documents from both companies, including sworn statements of John Lampe, president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding Co. and testimony of Sanjay Govindjee, a consultant hired by the tire maker to investigate defects.

Prosecutors reportedly requested public documents from consumer advocate Joan Claybrook and Ford purchasing agent Judy Sullivan. Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, testified before congressional hearings on the Ford-Firestone tire recall.

"The only information I have about the possible investigation is the information I've read in media reports," Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman Dan MacDonald told the City Paper. "We've been open and honest with federal officials with the recalls."

Bridgestone/Firestone recalled more than 6.5 million potentially defective ATX, ATXII and Wilderness AT radial tires in August 2000 because of tread failure blamed for blowouts and vehicle rollovers.

Ford expanded the recall in May 2001 to include millions more Wilderness tires. Firestone closed its Decatur, Ill., plant where many of the potentially defective tires were made in December. Over the last two years, Bridgestone/Firestone quietly settled nearly 800 lawsuits without admitting guilty. Ford has settled dozens of suits.

Pending personal injury suits in the recalls were consolidated in federal court in Indianapolis.

Bridgestone/Firestone, which reported net income of $83 million last year after losing $1.67 billion in 2001, said was aware of the investigation but had not been contacted by the U.S. Attorney's office in Southern Illinois. The manufacturer is a U.S. subsidiary of Japanese tire maker Bridgestone Corp.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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