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U.S. Won’t Reopen Probe on Steeltex Tires

June 16, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal highway safety agency said Monday that it won’t reopen an investigation into Bridgestone/Firestone’s Steeltex tires despite evidence that tread separation has caused 13 deaths.

At issue are 39 million Steeltex Radial R4S, R4S II and A/T tires manufactured by Bridgestone/Firestone since 1990. The tires generally are used on motor homes, commercial trucks, passenger vans and other light trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the tires once before because of reports of injuries and deaths due to tire blowouts. It closed an 18-month investigation last year after concluding the 39 vehicle crashes linked to tire defects was a very low failure rate when compared to the total number of tires in use.

Those crashes killed eight people and injured 40.

Roger Littrell of Cathedral City, Calif., petitioned NHTSA to reopen the investigation in November. Littrell, who is suing Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firetone in state court, says the company knows Steeltex tires have a lamination defect that could cause the entire tread to separate.

Littrell claimed that there were 2,972 complaints about the tires in NHTSA’s database as of April 2002, when the investigation was closed.

However, the agency said Monday that the claim was overstated, and that there were only 930 complaints related to Steeltex tire failure. Sixty percent of those, or 550, cited tread separation, NHTSA said.

The agency added that as of last month, it had identified 54 total crashes that were allegedly due to tread separation on Steeltex tires. Those crashes killed 13 people and injured 160, the agency said.

``The numbers of tread separation failures in those tires are functions of the large volume produced and the more severe service conditions associated with light truck radial tires,″ NHTSA said.

Joseph Lisoni, a lawyer for Littrell, didn’t immediately respond Monday to a telephone message seeking comment.

Lisoni has alleged that the Steeltex tire fails much the same way as the Firestone Wilderness series.

Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million Wilderness tires in August 2000. It also has paid $41.5 million to settle lawsuits over Wilderness tires, which federal safety officials found were prone to separate at high speeds.

Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman Dan MacDonald said Monday that there are no similarities in the cases.

``This conclusion should put to rest any and all questions that have been raised about the Steeltex tires,″ MacDonald said.

___

On the Net:

NHTSA, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Bridgestone/Firestone, http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

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