Another out of control car: Ford investigation expands

PHOENIX - The ABC15 Investigators are expanding a probe into a potential safety defect that has the federal government taking action.

A QUICK DECISION

Estee Piehl kept the tiny piece of plastic that she says almost ended her life.

"It's a miracle that we escaped," she said, holding the cruise control cable from her 2004 Ford Escape.

On April 14, 2010, Piehl was driving her 6-year-old son to soccer practice in Aurora, Colorado outside of Denver, when she accelerated to change lanes. She let her foot off the gas, but her car sped up.

She told her son, "Carson, mommy can't stop the car. Carson, mommy is trying to stop the car, I'm trying but I can't stop the car right now."

"The only thing he said is, ‘Mommy, something's burning,'" Piehl said. It was her brakes.

Gaining speed down a busy street, she had a quick decision to make – "whether to slam into the back of the cars in front of me going about 65 miles an hour," she said, "or swerve into the continuing traffic."

She chose to swerve and narrowly missed the other cars, she said.

Both feet slammed on the brake, she said she managed to slow the car down to about 55 miles per hour.

"Literally, just by the grace of God, there was a left-hand turn lane that was open," she said, "so I was able to get over."

Then she did the only thing experts say you can to stop a runaway car: Put it into neutral.

With a less experienced driver, Estee thinks the outcome could have been tragic.

"When this happened to me," she said, "I specifically said, if this had been a teenager driving that car, they probably would have died."

A TEENAGER'S DEATH

On Jan. 27 of this year, 17 year-old Saige Bloom died after her 2002 Ford Escape accelerated out of control and crashed in Payson, Arizona.

The ABC15 Investigators were there as Bill Williams, an inspector hired by the Bloom family, used a small camera on the end of a wire to look under the Escape's hood for the first time. He claims he found what caused the crash: a damaged cruise control cable.

He says its cover broke, the cable stuck and it forced the throttle open – and the car to travel at very high speeds.

Ford tells ABC15 that the company hasn't completed its own investigation into what caused the Bloom accident. At this time, no lawsuits have been filed about the Bloom accident.

Read Ford's full statement on the Bloom accident below.

NHTSA'S INVESTIGATION

But Williams says the problem goes beyond Estee and Saige's Escapes – to any Escape equipped with the same cruise control cable and engine cover design as the 2002-2004 V6 models.

"As long as that car is on the road," he said, "it's going to need service."

The cruise control cable on some Ford Escapes can break too easily, creating the potential for sudden acceleration.

"I know that there's more out there," he said, "that are running around with that bind in there, just waiting for the right circumstance to happen."

A Ford mechanic found the same type of broken cable and stuck throttle under the hood of Estee Piehl's Escape in Colorado. "Fitting had become wedged due to the inner cable guide being broke," the mechanic wrote when Piehl brought her car in for service after it accelerated out of control two years ago.

Now the federal government is concerned about the same issue.

After the ABC15 Investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into V6 engine Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes for a potential safety defect that could lead to stuck throttles and vehicle crashes.

The agency is investigating 730,000 model year 2001-2004 Escapes and Tributes.

The agency says it found 99 complaints alleging stuck throttles in these SUVs, including 13 crashes, 9 injuries and one death. The complaints the agency is investigating include those of "accelerator cable failure, cruise control cable failure and/or stuck throttles," according to NHTSA.

The agency has not reached any conclusions in its investigation and Ford tells ABC15, "we are aware of the investigation and we are fully cooperating with NHTSA on it."

Mazda tells ABC15, "we are cooperating with NHTSA on their investigation and will advise on next steps at an appropriate time."

The ABC15 Investigators found in complaints posted on NHTSA's website that some owners of affected Escapes describe similar issues found in both Piehl's Escape and the one Saige Bloom was driving the day she died.

In California, an owner wrote that "the cruise control cable failed and jammed the throttle cover" in a Ford Escape. In Ohio, another writes, "the cruise control cable was the cause of the failure."

Estee Piehl's is one of the 99 complaints cited in NHTSA's investigation. Hers is case number 10325817.

"The dealer performed a diagnostic test which revealed that the vehicle cruise control cable had broken," Piehl's NHTSA complaint says.

Piehl says she's still amazed that she and her son survived the incident.

"I'm just grateful that he's going into third grade next year," she said,

"and we lived through it."

FORD MOTOR COMPANY STATEMENT ON THE RECALL:

Ford is committed to informing our customers when any issues arise involving vehicle safety. In Dec. 2004, Ford issued a recall for 470,245 2002-2004 MY Escape SUVs to replace the accelerator cable. This included all Escape SUVs built from May 30, 2001 through Jan. 23, 2004.

A service bulletin update was shared with dealers on October 6, 2005 to ensure technicians were installing the cables properly. All service actions and updates, like this one, remain in the Ford dealer system indefinitely or until the fix is completed. This allows dealers to check on any recommended or outstanding repairs when the vehicle is brought in for service.

Escape owners were informed of this recall. Owners with any concerns or questions about this recall are always encouraged to contact our customer relationship center at 1-866-436-7332 with any questions.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY STATEMENT ON SAIGE BLOOM CRASH:

We offer our deepest sympathies to the Bloom family for their tragic loss. We are in the middle of our investigation and have not reached any conclusions. We will work closely with NHTSA to determine the cause of the crash and will take appropriate action if warranted by the outcome of the investigation.

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