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N4T Investigators: Tire Turmoil

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TUCSON (KVOA) - An accident that happened 17 years ago is still making waves across the country. It involved a Tucson family, whose motor home flipped on a New Mexico highway. After the tread on their tire separated, three of the four onboard were left seriously physically injured. The family said a Goodyear tire was to blame and took the company to court. 

That litigation has long since been settled but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is still investigating. 

A document from NHTSA shows they opened the investigation into Goodyear Tire Company's G159 275/70R 22.5 tire back in 2017. After dozens of accidents involving the G159 tires occurred. All were installed on Class A motor homes that were driven at highway speeds. 

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have learned at least 41 lawsuits and three years later the investigation is still underway. 

"There's been 35 of these highspeed tread separations that have either caused property damage, hurt or killed Arizona families,” David Kurtz, a Scottsdale-based lawyer for the Haeger family said. 

Kurtz said it's become an all-too-familiar story. 

"They were in their early 60's,” Kurtz said. “Leroy was ex-military and an electrician." 

He said what happened to his clients, could happen to your family too. 

"His wife, Donna was operating several different businesses,” Kurtz said. 

Tucson family members, Barry and Sue haeger were with them. 

“They had inspected the tires and everything,” Kurtz said. “They're off in the morning no problem..." 

He said their motor home was going about 75-miles-an-hour. A 6,000-pound Jeep was hitched to the back. 

"It terrified the entire family,” Kurtz said. “The motor home lost control." 

It was 2003. They were driving on a New Mexico highway when the tread on their front tire separated. 

"The motor home skid over,” Kurtz said. “So, Leroy's leg was getting ripped through trees and debris. It tore off most of his lower limb. ...He's embedded here under the steering wheel." 

How did this happen? 

"See this? The front right tire,” Kurtz said. “This little area here shows the tread ripped off the tire." 

According to court documents, the tire in question was a Goodyear G159, specifically the G159 275/70R 22.5.   

In 2005, the Haegers filed a lawsuit against Goodyear alleging the tire was defective. Without admitting fault, Goodyear paid the Haegers out in a confidential settlement.   

"Then we found out Goodyear was hiding evidence,” Kurtz said.  (After the settlement) "There were huge sanction proceedings against Goodyear for deception."

According to a court document, a U.S. District Court judge in Arizona ruled in favor of the Haegers on the sanctions issue, finding that Goodyear and its attorneys delayed production of relevant information, made misleading and false in-court statements and concealed relevant documents.  

After, Kurtz said the judge then ordered sanctions against Goodyear and its attorneys to the tune of $2.7 million. 

The order went to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the decision asking the judgment be reduced, sending the case back to the Arizona District Court for new sanctions. Kurtz said the new decision ordered Goodyear and its attorneys to pay the Haegers $2 million. 

Meanwhile, new G159 tires are no longer sold in stores. 

Kurtz is still concerned that Goodyear hasn't put out a safety warning for those who may still have them and he isn't the only one worried.

 Since 2017, the Center For Auto Safety has been fighting Goodyear. Kurtz said they filed a motion to unseal court records and vacate a protective order so, the public could be aware of the claimed dangerousness of the G159 tire.  

The Center's executive director says they're committed to fighting for the release of the tire's data. 

"There is a lot of information about these G159 tires which appear to be defective, appear to be involved in a significant number of crashes and injuries and deaths,” Jason Levine, the Executive Director at the Center For Auto Safety said. “That has not been shared with the public. The public deserves to know." 

He said Goodyear refuses to release all of the tire's information. 

"Goodyear has argued that they need to protect this information about this 20-year-old tire because they are trade secrets,” Levine said. 

Why won't Goodyear release a safety alert about the G159 tire on Class A motor homes? We asked them. 

We reached out numerous times and they have not responded.  

Until they do, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to keep their investigation open.

As for the Haegers?  

Kurtz said Donna suffered broken bones in her jaw, arms, and legs. Sue will never be able to fully use her left hand again.   

"She can't make a fist. She can't button a blouse,” Kurtz said. 

Leroy had more than a dozen surgeries on his leg, before he died from unrelated health issues in 2008. 

“...But only after several years of suffering,” Kurtz said. 

Suffering that Kurtz hopes another family will never have to endure. 

The G159 tires were made from 1996 to 2003. Kurtz said because the tire has a 100,000 mile tread life, it's likely still on the road. He said if you own a motor home, check the tires for your own safety. 

If you have a story you’d like for us to investigate email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip line at 955-4444.  

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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