A Florida woman died because a faulty air bag ruptured and fired shrapnel into her head during a crash she should have survived, a report released Jan. 17 by the state’s Highway Patrol said.
Nichol Barker, 34, of Holiday, Florida, was struck by metal pieces that burst through the Takata airbag, causing a 6-inch (15-centimeter) by 3-inch (8-centimeter) gaping wound to her left temple, a fractured skull and bruising and bleeding on her brain, according to the report written by Sgt. Chester T. Everett, the lead investigator.
Barker is at least the 21st person killed worldwide since 2009 by exploding Takata air bags, which were first recalled in the early 2000s. Air bags deploy at up to 200 mph (320 kph), but are not supposed to rupture.
According to Everett’s report, Barker, her 10-year-old son, 5-year-daughter and her mother were traveling on a two-lane road in Holiday at approximately 30 mph (48 kph) on July 19 when a 1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am driven by a 19-year-old man made a left turn in front of her. Barker’s 2002 Honda Accord slammed into Trans Am’s passenger’s side.
Barker’s son, mother and the other driver received minor injuries and her daughter was unhurt. Barker was flown by helicopter to the hospital and pronounced dead 40 minutes after the crash. The other driver was cited for an illegal turn.
Both Everett and Dr. Christopher Wilson, the medical examiner who performed Barker’s autopsy, concluded she would have survived except for the faulty air bag.
Barker had bought the car from a private seller in 2016, but it is unknown if she or the seller knew about her car’s May 2015 recall, according to the report. The air bag had not been replaced.
Her husband, Larry Pahlck, declined comment.
Takata inflators can explode with too much force and blow apart a metal canister, spewing shrapnel. The Japanese company’s defective inflators touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, involving 42 million vehicles and 69 million inflators. More than 100 million have been recalled worldwide. All the deaths but one occurred in Hondas. Five happened in Malaysia and one in Australia.
Honda investigated the crash and previously announced it believed the air bag caused Barker’s death. The company has offered sympathy to her family, and urged owners of recalled vehicles to get them repaired as soon as possible. Older vehicles, especially those from the 2001 to 2003 model years, pose a greater danger of injuring or killing people. The company says it has enough replacement inflators available to repair all cars and will do so at no cost to owners.
Takata uses the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate to inflate air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity. That can make it burn too fast and blow the metal canister apart.
There are more than 90 million Takata inflators still on the road in the U.S., according to the federal government.
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