Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Law Suk Leh, 8 1/2 months pregnant, killed by EXPLODING TAKATA AIRBAG

Pregnant Woman Killed by Air Bag in Malaysia Amid Global Auto Crisis

Source: Courtesy of Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr.

Law's 2003 Honda after the accident. The second-hand 2003 Honda wasn’t among the more than 13 million vehicles recalled worldwide because of defective Takata air bags.
“Mummy -- Car!”
Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr., 41, blurted out the warning as he was riding in the passenger seat of a Honda City driven by his wife, whom he endearingly called Mummy. A moment later, as they entered an intersection in the Malaysian town of Sibu on July 27, a collision with an oncoming car set off the air bag with such force it knocked Caido out.

On the driver’s side, the inflator inside the air bag, made by Takata Corp. (7312), malfunctioned and ruptured, firing a one-inch-wide shard of metal into the neck of his wife, Law Suk Leh.

Law, 43, and eight-and-a-half months pregnant, died on the way to the hospital, becoming the first reported casualty outside the U.S. in the deepening air-bag crisis gripping the auto industry. In the U.S., Takata air bags, used by carmakers including Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), Honda Motor Co. and General Motors Co., have been tied to four deaths and at least 139 injuries, according to government reports, lawsuits and automaker disclosures.

“Takata deeply regrets the injuries and fatalities that have occurred in accidents involving ruptured air-bag inflators,” Chairman Shigehisa Takada said in a statement yesterday. Hideyuki Matsumoto, a spokesman for Takata, today declined to comment specifically on the Malaysian accident.
Source: Courtesy of Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr.
Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr., right, stands with his now deceased wife, Law Suk Leh. Law, 43, and eight-and-a-half months pregnant, died on the way to the hospital, becoming the first casualty outside the U.S. in the deepening air-bag crisis gripping the auto industry. Close
Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr., right, stands with his now deceased wife, Law Suk Leh.... Read More
Source: Courtesy of Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr.Welhelmo Rodriguez Caido Jr., right, stands with his now deceased wife, Law Suk Leh. Law, 43, and eight-and-a-half months pregnant, died on the way to the hospital, becoming the first casualty outside the U.S. in the deepening air-bag crisis gripping the auto industry.

Safety Regulations

The Malaysia crash graphically illustrates how the globalization of the car industry also means the globalization of auto safety problems. And unlike the U.S, with its network of federal and state safety agencies, recall notices and lawyers willing to pursue cases against manufacturers, drivers are at risk in Asian countries where auto safety regulations lag and authorities wash their hands of any duty to alert drivers of potentially lethal defects.

“The incident is probably a wake-up call for Malaysia and other Asian countries,” said Jochen Siebert, managing director at JSC Automotive Consulting, which advises carmakers. “People in Malaysia and other Asian countries will now ask Honda about whether their cars are affected. This will force governments to speed to the process of formalization of regulation of safety in cars.”

Caido’s second-hand 2003 Honda wasn’t among the more than 13 million vehicles recalled worldwide because of defective Takata air bags. Honda called back another 170,000 vehicles last month after investigating the Malaysia death, Kosuke Kachi, a Tokyo-based spokesman, said by phone. Owners of affected cars were notified by mail and phone calls, and the company posted the information on its websites.

Recall Warnings

In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued several warnings on the matter and pushed carmakers to hasten their recalls. Takata rejected its demand to expand the safety campaign nationwide, NHTSA said in a statement. The agency said it would review the air-bag maker’s response and determine the next steps.

Even so, NHTSA is still being accused by members of Congress for not doing enough. Lawmakers are questioning Tokyo-based Takata through hearings reminiscent of the scrutiny faced by GM this year over faulty ignition switches and Toyota for unintended acceleration in 2009-2010. The media report on the issue as front-page news.

The Malaysian police are leaving it up to Honda and Takata to inform the public of their faulty air bags and aren’t planning any public service campaigns to spread the message wider, said Mohd Fuad Abdul Latiff, Malaysia’s federal traffic police chief.

‘Responsibility Ends’

“Our responsibility ends there,” Mohd Fuad said. Prosecutors will now pick up the case. The transport ministry did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

Honda didn’t disclose the Malaysia accident until Nov. 13, though it learned in August of the incident that resulted in the deaths of Law and her unborn child. Honda, Japan’s third-largest carmaker, would disclose about two weeks later that it had underreported injuries and deaths from vehicle defects 1,729 times in the U.S. over 11 years, eight of those cases involving ruptures of Takata air-bag inflator.

“We apologize to the people who died in Honda cars equipped with Takata-made air bags as well as their families, and we want to send our sincere condolence,” said Atsushi Ohara, a spokesman for Honda. “We will exert every effort to replace the parts for vehicles subjected to recalls.”

Road Deaths

Most Asian auto-safety supervision lags behind the U.S. The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 lives are lost each year through road traffic accidents, costing one to three percent of gross national product in economic losses. One key challenge is the availability of reliable and regular accident and fatality data, which is collected by different ministries and agencies. The lack of mechanisms to share information results in uncoordinated responses, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said on its website.

In India, where road accidents claim one life every five minutes, the government is trying to pass a law to set up a NHTSA-like agency to oversee recalls and set crash-test standards. Thailand’s transport ministry and police have said they’re not aware of any incidents involving suspect airbags.

The lack of widespread knowledge of the Takata air-bag defect may be particularly dangerous in Asia. Takata has said that the air bags are most prone to malfunction in humid environments, which characterizes most of Asia’s developing countries.

Legal Recourse

Asians also don’t have the same avenues to seek legal recourse against manufacturers. At least nine cases have been filed this year in U.S. courts claiming deaths or personal injuries caused by exploding Takata air bags. Takata also faces at least 50 proposed class actions in the U.S. brought by customers seeking payment for alleged losses in vehicle value connected to the recalls, with Honda named in all but two of these cases.

Most Asian countries, by contrast, have restrictions on class actions or group litigation.

The following story is based on interviews with Caido, Malaysian authorities, hospital staff and the driver of the other vehicle. Law’s sister declined to be interviewed for the story while her uncle, who authorities said helped link her death to the air bag based on his research, couldn’t be reached for comment.

‘Wonderful Sunday’

July 27 began as a “wonderful Sunday” for Caido and his wife and their seven-year-old son, Welhelm. Caido didn’t get to spend much time with his family after he joined Adinin Works & Engineering over a year ago as an electrician in an offshore rig, where he’d have to spend eight-week stretches in between two-week breaks. Even the heat -- it was Sibu’s hottest day of the year, with temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) -- didn’t distract from the day.

The family had come there two days earlier from their home in Brunei to visit relatives before making their way to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, where Law was due to deliver her second baby on Aug. 16.

Caido had been with Law for 10 years and got married in 2009. The family was excited about their soon-to-come second child, who would be named Elsa after the snow queen featured in Walt Disney Co.’s animated hit “Frozen.” Their son chose the name. While Caido would usually call his wife
“Mummy,” she’d call him “Papa.”

In the morning, Caido bought food and some hair dye for his wife, a music teacher at the Symphony Music School in Brunei, who was graying at 43.

“I told her ‘Mummy, at our age, we have to use color to look pretty,’” Caido said. “She was very pretty and very happy. It was a very wonderful Sunday.”

Drive Home

That evening, the couple went to church and left their son behind with his grandparents because he was hyperactive. They took their car, a Honda City Law bought around 2005, with seats wrapped in plastic and still in good condition. During the drive home, with Mummy at the wheel, they talked about the coming baby and how they would care for her.

Then at around 7:40 p.m. came the intersection.

The car opposite Caido’s was a Toyota Corolla Altis, whose driver asked not to be identified because the investigation is ongoing. The Toyota driver was headed for the night market with his brother, their girlfriends and a couple of cousins. As the driver began a right turn, his uncle, who was in a separate car behind him, honked at him to indicate he was going the wrong way. The driver said he tried to slow down when the collision occurred, though the impact wasn’t very hard.

A ‘Bump’

Caido recalls the accident as more like a “bump” than a full-on collision. As he awoke from a few seconds of unconsciousness, he turned to his side and said, “Mummy, are you OK?” She didn’t respond. He quickly got out and rushed to open her door.

“I saw a lot of blood coming out from her neck,” Caido said late last month in his first media interview. “I started panicking.”

Caido tried to cover the wounds with his hands. He then shouted for assistance to remove her from the car and bring her to the hospital. Someone said they had called an ambulance.

“I said I could not wait for the ambulance and please, please if anyone could help us,’” Caido said.
Bystanders, including passengers in the Toyota, helped Caido move his wife onto the back of a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck. One witness at the scene said Law was still alive gasping for breath, though bleeding profusely.

Sibu Hospital

As they rushed toward the hospital, Caido was holding his bleeding wife, uttering “don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me.”

About 10 minutes later, they spotted an ambulance, and waved it down. As the paramedics transferred his blood-soaked wife and tried to save her, Caido sat down in the ambulance and began to pray.

At the Sibu Hospital, a doctor, after learning the length of the pregnancy, told Caido they would remove the 37-week-old fetus from the womb. While Caido didn’t yet know if his wife was alive, she had been pronounced dead on arrival.

An emergency cesarean section was performed on Law, and Elsa was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. Her heartbeat was weak as her mother’s death deprived her of oxygen.

A hospital staff member soon delivered the news that his wife was gone and that their baby was in critical condition.

“I was shaking,” Caido said, his voice breaking in anguish. “I could not believe it.”

The night of the accident, he returned from the hospital and went to bed with his son. In the coming days, he explained to Welhelm that his mother was in heaven, unable to tell him directly that she had died.

On July 29, two days after the accident, Caido was told Elsa wouldn’t make it because her heart was too weak. The hospital told Caido they’d detach the ventilator sustaining Elsa so he could hold his baby for the last time.

“I told her to take care of her Mummy wherever they go,” Caido said in tears. “She slowly died in my arms.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shamim Adam in Kuala Lumpur at