7th death investigated in Takata air bag recall

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A seventh death may be linked to a defective Takata air bag that’s part of the largest-ever auto safety recall in U.S. history.

The family of a Louisiana woman killed in a crash in a 2005 Honda Civic in April filed suit in U.S. District Court citing that the crash may have been caused by a defective Takata air bag sending metal fragments into the driver.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reached out to Honda and Takata to gather more information.

NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbride said the agency "is aware of this crash, and we are working to gather information from Honda and from the attorney in the case."

The defect is linked to at least 95 incidents of improper deployments and more than 100 injuries.

On April 5, just before 4 a.m., Kylan Langlinais was traveling on Highway 167 in Lafayette, Louisiana, and hit a utility pole. The suit says the air bag “violently exploded and sent metal shards, shrapnel and/or other foreign material into the passenger compartment ... Langlinais sustained a penetrating injury to the right side of her neck, causing an immediate and profuse loss of blood.”

She died 4½ days later. This would be the most recent death since a Texas man was killed in a Honda with a defective Takata air bag in January.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin said Wednesday the automaker is reviewing the crash and said it only recently learned of the incident. All of the seven deaths have taken place in Honda vehicles.

Last month, Takata under heavy pressure from NHTSA agreed to declare 33.8 million vehicles defective — effectively doubling the size of the recall by 11 major automakers. The company came under heavy criticism from Congress for not acting faster.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee overseeing auto safety questioned Takata and NHTSA last week on the nearly year-long delay in Takata declaring the vehicles defective and finding the root cause of the exploding air bags.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said Takata wasn't taking responsibility. "There's no excuse for that," he said, adding that members wanted to hear Takata say: "We screwed up."

Takata, which has its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, came under harsh questioning. The Senate Commerce Committee may also hold a Takata hearing later this month.

"Every morning I fear I am playing headline roulette waiting for another rupture," said Rep. Mike Burgess, R-Texas, who chairs the commerce, manufacturing and trade panel that held the hearing. He said he understood that Takata hasn't found a root cause but added "if no other chemical" than ammonium nitrate has been implicated, he wondered why they are still using it.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., quoted an expert who said ammonium nitrate is cheaper and more dangerous than other chemicals. Although the exact reason for the exploding inflators is not known, some have argued that ammonium nitrate becomes unstable in high-humidity areas and can ignite with excessive force.

Burgess said he "couldn't believe" Takata is still using ammonium nitrate without the drying agent. "It almost seems like there should be a warning label stamped on the car: 'Caution this air bag may not be safe.'"

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said last week that he still can’t answer the question he asked six months ago: “What should I say to the mom in Michigan who asks me if she and her family are safe behind the wheel? Six months later I unfortunately have to ask the same question,” Upton said.