By Joe Southern
The message borne of tragedy couldn’t have been any clearer: Check the recall messages on motor vehicles and get them fixed, especially if they are airbags.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference April 7 where Sheriff Troy Nehls, Deputy Danny Beckworth and Faizan Hanif, the brother of a 17-year-old George Ranch High School senior who was killed by a malfunctioning airbag, made an impassioned plea for people to check their vehicles for recalls.
“I would like for anyone watching this to pray for my sister and my family,” Hanif said. “I would just like to urge everyone regardless of whether or not you receive a recall notice, if you have a car that has a defective air bag, get it fixed before you lose a loved one on it.”
Nehls reiterated that people visit www.safercar.gov and enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if it has any recall notices. Such precautionary action could have saved the life of Huma Hanif.
Huma was killed March 31 in a fender bender accident on FM 762 at Gonyo Road when an airbag inflator manufactured by Takata malfunctioned and blew shrapnel through the airbag into her neck.
“There is no doubt that the Takata air bag inside her 2002 Honda Civic failed and fired a sharp piece of jagged metal into her throat at point-blank range, from less than two feet away,” Nehls said. “Our investigation revealed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the right neck area, which severed her jugular vein and carotid artery.” Deputy Beckworth was the lead investigator on scene.
“I have worked of hundreds of these crashes in the county and everybody should have walked away from this crash,” Beckworth said.
He help up pieces of the airbag assembly and demonstrated how the inflator failed and blasted several pieces of metal through the bag like a shotgun. Among the items were the actual piece taken out of Huma’s neck and the bloody and torn remnants of the bag.
Faizan Hanif, 24, said the family never received a recall notice about the airbag and would have responded if they had. Honda later refuted that claim in an email sent to area press.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family of the driver during this difficult time,” the company said.
It added that, “Since 2011, the vehicle involved in this crash has been included in multiple recalls and a market campaign. Multiple mailed recall notices related to the driver’s Takata airbag inflator were sent over the course of several years to registered owners of the vehicle involved in the crash, including multiple notices to the current registered owner. Our records indicate that the recall repair was never completed.”
Huma became the 10th person in the United States to be killed by a faulty Takata airbag. Her brother said she planned to go to college after graduation to study nursing. He said she was always trying to help people and had in fact just dropped a friend off at home after school and was on her way to work. Beckworth said there was no evidence of speeding or distraction from a cell phone. She rear-ended the car in front of her with just enough force to trigger deployment of the airbag.
Nehls said one of his sergeants entered his personal VIN into the safercar.gov website that morning and discovered an airbag recall notice. He said if a law enforcement officer, who should be vigilant about such things, can miss a recall, it is just that much easier for the general public to miss them.
“This website will list all recalls,” he said.