Sunday, September 27, 2015

Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood

Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood

Shwetak N. Patel looked over the 2013 Mercedes C300 and saw not a sporty all-wheel-drive sedan, but a bundle of technology.

There were the obvious features, like a roadside assistance service that communicates to a satellite. But Dr. Patel, a computer science professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, flipped up the hood to show the real brains of the operation: the engine control unit, a computer attached to the side of the motor that governs performance, fuel efficiency and emissions.

To most car owners, this is an impregnable black box. But to Dr. Patel, it is the entry point for the modern car tinkerer — the gateway to the code.

“If you look at all the code in this car,” Dr. Patel said, “it’s easily as much as a smartphone if not more.”

New high-end cars are among the most sophisticated machines on the planet, containing 100 million or more lines of code. Compare that with about 60 million lines of code in all of Facebook or 50 million in the Large Hadron Collider

Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, next to a car modified with self-driving technology at the Center for Automotive Research. Professor Gerdes says today’s cars "are reaching biological levels of complexity." CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

“Cars these days are reaching biological levels of complexity,” said Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University.

The sophistication of new cars brings numerous benefits — forward-collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking that keep drivers safer are just two examples. But with new technology comes new risks — and new opportunities for malevolence.

The unfolding scandal at Volkswagen — in which 11 million vehicles were outfitted with software that gave false emissions results — showed how a carmaker could take advantage of complex systems to flout regulations.

Carmakers and consumers are also at risk. Dr. Patel has worked with security researchers who have shown it is possible to disable a car’s brakes with an infected MP3 file inserted into a car’s CD player. A hacking demonstration by security researchers exposed how vulnerable new Jeep Cherokees can be. A series of software-related recalls has raised safety concerns and cost automakers millions of dollars.

Cars have become “sealed-hood entities with complicated computers and modules,” said Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and technologist. “All of this is deeply nontransparent. And all of this is grounds for cheating of all sorts.”

The increasing reliance on code raises questions about how these hybrids of digital and mechanical engineering are being regulated. Even officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledge that the agency doesn’t have the capacity to scrutinize the millions of lines of code that now control automobiles.

One option for making auto software safer is to open it to public scrutiny. While this might sound counterintuitive, some experts say that if automakers were forced to open up their source code, many interested people — including coding experts and academics — could search for bugs and vulnerabilities. Automakers, not surprisingly, have resisted this idea.

“There’s no requirement that anyone except the car companies looks at the code,” says Philip Koopman, an associate professor at the department of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “Computers can now exert almost complete control over your car. But if that software misbehaves, there’s nothing you can do.”

Fear of Hacking

Andy Greenberg steered a 2014 white Jeep Cherokee down a highway in St. Louis, cruising along at 70 miles per hour. Miles away, two local hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, sat on a leather couch at Mr. Miller’s house, laptops open, ready to wreak havoc.

As Mr. Greenberg sped along, both hands on the wheel, his ride began to go awry. First, the air-conditioning began blasting. Then an image of the hackers in tracksuits appeared on the digital display screen. Rap music began blaring at full volume, and Mr. Greenberg could not adjust the sound. The windshield wipers started and cleaning fluid sprayed, obstructing his view. Finally, the engine quit.

Mr. Greenberg was on a highway with no shoulder. A big rig blew past, blaring its horn.

“I’m going to pull over,” Mr. Greenberg said. “ ’Cause I have PTSD.”

The episode was in fact a stunt orchestrated by the hackers and Mr. Greenberg, a writer for Wired magazine, to demonstrate the Jeep’s very real vulnerabilities. The article appeared on July 21.

Days later, Fiat Chrysler, the maker of Jeep, announced a recall of 1.4 million vehicles to fix the flaws the hackers had identified — the first known recall intended to address a possible hacking threat.

Though automakers say they know of no malicious hacking incidents so far, the risks are real. Stefan Savage, a computer security professor at the University of California, San Diego, said that automakers were “in a state of panic” over the prospect. “They are trying to figure out what to do, quickly,” he said.

“Cars already have very complex computer systems across the board,” said Elliot Garbus, vice president for transportation at Intel, the computer chip maker, which has a fast-growing autos division. “We’re at the beginning of this evolution, and there’s a question of how do we do a better job of securing the vehicle from cyberthreats, and those threats are significant.”

Aware of the threats, most major carmakers have started to explore the idea of sharing critical information about security. General Motors last year appointed a chief product cybersecurity officer, the first automaker to create such a position.

Tesla has hired a new security chief from Google, who previously oversaw security for the Chrome web browser. And in early August, the company began offering $10,000 to outsiders who find security problems. (It had been giving $1,000.) “We are hiring!” the automaker wrote on a whiteboard at Def Con, a premier computer hackers’ conference in Las Vegas, in announcing the prize.

A student works on a computer hooked up to self-steering car at the center.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

At the same conference, Tesla’s chief technology officer awarded the company’s commemorative “challenge coins” to two computer researchers. The researchers had revealed how to plug into the Tesla S computer system, unlock the sedan and stop the car under certain conditions — vulnerabilities that the company says are now patched.

Congress has moved to pressure automakers to more urgently address such risks. In July, Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, introduced new legislation that would require cars sold in the United States to meet tough standards of protection against computer attacks.

While a future of malevolent hackers taking over steering wheels across the land still feels a bit like science fiction, more mundane issues are already turning up. Recalls over software are mounting. In July, Ford said that it would recall 432,000 Focus, C-Max and Escape vehicles because of a software bug that could keep the cars’ engines running even after drivers tried to shut them off. Ford dealers will update the software to fix the flaw, the automaker has said.

And last month, Toyota recalled 625,000 hybrid cars over a software malfunction that could bring the cars to a sudden stop; it recalled 1.9 million Prius hybrid cars last year for a similar problem.

Of course, software isn’t always the cause of flaws. One of the deadliest defects discovered in the last few years did not arise in chips or code: It was a mechanical problem with the ignition switch in some General Motors cars.

Hidden in Code

Software has made cars better. In fact, without software innovations, automakers could not meet tightening emissions standards in the United States, said Mr. Gerdes, the Stanford professor.

When a new car is stopped at a light, or in gridlock, for example, its engine might rev without prompting from the driver. That might feel like unintended acceleration to the driver, but inside what Mr. Gerdes called “the chemical plant” in your car, tightly controlled reactions are taking place. The internal emissions system has realized that the catalyst is getting cool, and if it gets cool, it won’t be as effective at reducing emissions. So the brains of the car command the engine to rev, creating hotter exhaust that keeps the catalyst warm.

And as the Volkswagen case has shown, these complexities create openings for automakers to game the system. Software in many of the German carmaker’s diesel engines was rigged to fool emissions tests. The cars equipped with the manipulated software spewed as much as 40 times the pollution allowed under the Clean Air Act during normal driving situations. Volkswagen executives admitted to officials in the United States that diesel cars sold in the country had been programmed to sense when emissions were being tested, and to turn on equipment that reduced them.

The German automaker got away with this trick for years because it was hidden in lines of code. It was only after investigations by environmental groups and independent researchers that Volkswagen’s deception came to light.

Errors in software, too, can be notoriously difficult to identify.

Jean Bookout was driving a 2005 Camry eight years ago on an Oklahoma highway when the car accelerated through an intersection and slammed into an embankment. Ms. Bookout, then 76, was injured, and her passenger, the 70-year-old Barbara Schwarz, died.

Experts who reviewed the source code for Toyota’s electronic throttle system — and testified in a lawsuit arising from the Oklahoma case — found that it contained bugs.

They also testified that Toyota had failed to follow proper coding rules and protocols. The resulting code, as one expert described it, was “spaghetti.”

An Oklahoma jury awarded $3 million in compensation to the plaintiffs. Toyota settled before the jury could consider awarding additional damages; to this day, the carmaker disputes that its electronic throttle system is flawed.

Enlisting the Public

Nat Beuse heads the office of vehicle safety research at N.H.T.S.A., the nation’s auto safety regulator. At a sprawling research lab in East Liberty, Ohio, a team of engineers from Mr. Beuse’s office are hacking into vehicles, tracking down safety defects as well as vulnerabilities that might allow an outsider to manipulate the critical functions of a car, like its brakes or steering.

It was in Ohio that the agency confirmed that a patch meant to fix the Jeep hacking would actually work. Now, N.H.T.S.A. investigators at the test facility are looking for vulnerabilities in other systems.

The agency is also testing a standard for writing code recently developed by the automakers. And it is studying whether black boxes in cars that record data, like a vehicle’s speed in a crash, can be programmed to record electronic faults.

But Mr. Beuse acknowledges that checking the millions of lines of code in automobiles is too gargantuan a task for regulators. In some cases, automakers can use two or three different versions of code in the same model year, he said.

“Whether you can actually police every little piece of software and electronics in a vehicle — I think the scope of that question is too large almost to answer,” he said. “What we’re focused on are very, very critical systems that affect safety — steering, throttle, braking and anything to do with battery systems.”

One model that N.H.T.S.A. has studied is the one now used by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial aircraft. The F.A.A. dispatches representatives to plane manufacturers to directly oversee the software design process for the critical systems that control flying.

“They go in periodically, and say, ‘Show me what you’re doing and convince me that you’re doing a good job — or else I’m not signing off, and it’s not going in an airplane,’ ” Mr. Koopman of Carnegie Mellon said. “Can you tailor this so that it works for the car business? That’s a question I don’t have an answer for. But it’s clearly an option.”

If it were to carry out those inspections, N.H.T.S.A. would need skilled people. The agency estimates that it has 0.3 staff members for every 100 fatalities in automobile crashes; the F.A.A. has at its disposal over 10,000 staff members for every 100 fatalities on commercial aircraft, according to N.H.T.S.A.

“Companies are trying to use state-of-the-art software,” said Mr. Gerdes of Stanford. “If you are going to attempt to regulate that, you need to have similar expertise in-house, and that can be challenging from a recruiting and compensation and talent perspective.”

Given the challenges of regulating complex software, some experts are calling for automakers to put their code in the public domain, a practice that has become increasingly commonplace in the tech world. Then, they say, automakers can tap the vast skills and resources of coding and security experts everywhere to identify potential problems.

“We should be allowed to know how the things we buy work,” Mr. Moglen of Columbia University said. “Let’s say everybody who bought a Volkswagen were guaranteed the right to read the source code of everything in the car,” he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the buyers would never read anything. But out of the 11 million people whose car was cheating, one of them would have found it,” he said. “And Volkswagen would have been caught in 2009, not 2015.”

Automakers aren’t buying the idea.

Fiat Chrysler’s security chief, Scott G. Kunselman, told the hackers in the Jeep incident that it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for them to publish technical details about the breach because it would amount to a how-to guide for criminals to remotely attack a vehicle, according to a summary of the correspondence provided by the company. The company declined to make Mr. Kunselman available for an interview.

Volkswagen, through its trade association, has been one of the most vocal and forceful opponents of an exemption to a copyright rule that would allow independent researchers to look at a car’s source code, said Kit Walsh, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for user privacy and free expression.

“If copyright law were not an impediment,” he said, “then we could have independent researchers go in and look at the code and find this kind of intentional wrongdoing, just as we have independent watchdogs that check vehicle safety with crash-test dummies.”

“Keeping source code secret does not prevent attacks,” Mr. Koopman of Carnegie Mellon said. “Either the code is vulnerable or it’s not.”

In the past, the Environmental Protection Agency has sided with automakers and opposed making automotive code public. There is a community of computer car tinkerers who tweak code to improve performance. The E.P.A.’s logic was that car owners might try to reprogram their cars to beat emissions rules.

The Volkswagen trickery has turned that argument on its head. The agency declined to comment on the copyright issue, and on Friday it announced it would conduct additional emissions testing on carmakers.

“Is the problem of individuals modifying their cars individually more serious than the risk of large-scale cheating by manufacturers?” said Mr. Moglen of Columbia.

Senator Blumenthal, a co-sponsor of the computer security bill, said that he would approach the E.P.A. about opening access to vehicle source code so that deceit could be prevented. Automakers “should not prevent the government or consumers from fixing their software,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

“The reality is that more and more decisions, including decisions about life and death, are being made by software,” Thomas Dullien, a well-known security researcher and reverse engineer who goes by the Twitter handle Halvar Flake, said in an email. “But for the vast majority of software you interact with, you are not allowed to examine how it functions,” he said.

“The misbehavior of Volkswagen’s cars would have been easily spotted,” he said, “if someone had looked at the code.”

Nick Wingfield contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on September 27, 2015, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Weak Spot Under the Hood.

Toyota Admits Software Misread Crash Data; Bug Subsequently Fixed

Toyota Admits Software Misread Crash Data; Bug Subsequently Fixed

"Change of Speed" entry in Event Data Recorder was accessed incorrectly.

has acknowledged and subsequently fixed a bug in laptop software used to access its crash information. In a key case reported in August, the software error caused a misreading of vehicle speed. In accessing a crashed EDR, its "Delta-V" (change in vehicle speed at the time of the accident) was read at more than 170 mph, a speed far beyond the truck's capability.
According to Toyota's product development and research chief, Takeshi Uchiyamada, the problem had not been with the EDR itself, but rather with laptop software used to access EDR data. He said the 150 EDR access devices currently in use in the U.S. are now bug-free.
All this is relevant to investigations undertaking by the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Based on its examination of 58 Toyota EDRs, NHTSA reported no incidents along the lines of the company's earlier problems with floor mat interference or faulty accelerator pedal damping. In more than half the recorders examined, there was no indication that drivers applied brakes, suggesting error rather than vehicle "unintended acceleration."

Maret Jaks - m.k. jaks
Given that it has now been made clear that Toyota was lying about its floor pads and that
there was a software glitch that caused so many deaths (they've admitted they lied twice
and the US has fined them $1.2 Billion), this article should be updated with a comment
regarding this fact?

Friday, September 25, 2015

After Volkswagen Pollution Scandal, Can You Trust Your Technology?

Dr. Michael Barr described TOYOTA's software as 'SPAGHETTI.' 

The VW Scandal is just the beginning of the unraveling of the FAILURES of Auto Makers to protect consumers. 

Republicans have underfunded government agencies that can no longer protect Americans and address the technology. 

The programs below are worth listening to. This is why NPR is a valuable resource worthy of your support. 

After Volkswagen Pollution Scandal, Can You Trust Your Technology?

The U.S. EPA said stealth software made VW’s 2009-2015 model cars powered by 2.0-liter diesel engines run cleaner in tests than in actual driving. (Jens Meyer/AP)

If you own a Volkswagen diesel, bad news: the German auto giant has been cheating. Researchers at West Virginia University discovered that VW has been equipping millions of its diesel models with software to make the cars pollute less during emissions testing. But on the road, they pollute a whole lot more, in violation of U.S. environmental laws. So, how do we know our computers are telling the whole truth?


Hiawatha Bray, technology writer for the business section of The Boston Globe. He’s also author of the new book, “You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves.” He tweets @GlobeTechLab.

Ray Magliozzi, co-host of NPR’s Car Talk, which tweets @cartalk.

The Boston Globe: When German Engineering Is Digital Deception

  • “It’s also a warning to everybody who’s ever assumed that the stuff on your computer screen is the gospel truth. Our digital devices can easily be used to manipulate, mislead or flat-out lie to us. Humans have always lied to each other, and always will. But we’re used to sniffing out the crude analog deceptions of our fellow man. When computers skew reality, it can be done with such subtlety, we may never realize we’re being played.”

Mother Jones: The VW Scandal Is Just the Beginning

  • “VW used software to put a new spin on an old scam. Wherever there is a test, someone will try to cheat on it. The EPA has banned emissions test “defeat devices” for decades. In 1995, it fined GM $11 million for turning off carbon monoxide controls when the air conditioning was on. Some observers have defended GM, arguing that carbon monoxide pollution is primarily an issue in the winter. But the larger principle—truth in testing—is important.”

NPR: Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ Fallout: Germany Tests Cars; Report Sends BMW Shares Down

  • “That test was carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which found that the BMW model performed worse than a VW Passat TDI — one of the cars included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s call for a recall. ‘All measured data suggest that this is not a VW-specific issue,’ Peter Mock, the group’s Europe managing director, tells Auto Bild.”

How A Little Lab In West Virginia Caught 

Volkswagen's Big Cheat

SEPTEMBER 24, 2015

Diesel car engines like this one in a 2012 Volkswagen Golf are among those that include software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.
Diesel car engines like this one in a 2012 Volkswagen Golf are among those that include software that circumvents
EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.

Patrick Pleul/DPA/Landov

Volkswagen was recently brought to its knees when scientists discovered the company had installed a device in its diesel-powered cars to fool emissions tests. Its stock price tanked, its reputation has been damaged and its CEO resigned on Wednesday.

So who made the discovery that sent the German car giant into a tailspin? A group of scientists at West Virginia University.

WVU research assistant professor Arvind Thiruvengadam and his colleagues test and experiment on cars and engines. He admits his is not the sexiest lab on campus, but he says he got superexcited when they won a grant in 2012 to test a few diesel cars.

"Our happiness was, 'Wow, we are going to be the first guys to test diesel cars on the road,' " he says. "And then after that, when we were getting the data we were like 'OK, we're going to write a lot of journal papers, and we'll be happy if three people read these journal papers.' That's our happiness at that point."

The International Council on Clean Transportation is a nonprofit that tries to provide independent science to government agencies that regulate the environment. It hired the university to do a standard emissions tests on diesel cars in the U.S. Volkswagen has been hyping diesel cars that are environmentally friendly and fuel efficient. Volkswagen had the boldest claims and the highest sales but Thiruvengadam tested two VW cars and found that the claims of low emissions never panned out in the real world.

"We were never seeing those low emissions during most part of our drives on the interstate. That part of the emissions program was interesting," he says.

In none of their road tests could they get their two Volkswagen cars to meet the claims, even though a BMW they tested did fine. Very early on it was pretty clear to the scientists that something was wrong.

He says the team kept double-checking its procedures. "And then, I mean, we did so much testing that we couldn't repeatedly be doing the same mistake again and again," he says.

"It's the sort of thing you just don't go around accusing companies of doing unless you're absolutely sure," says John German, with the International Council on Clean Transportation — the group that commissioned the test. German immediately suspected Volkswagen had done something not completely unheard of in the car business: install what's called a defeat device.

"The quick definition is something that tells the computer when you're on the official test cycle and when you're not. And when you're not, you change how the emission control system works," he says.

German says the deceit doesn't just stop with a programmer writing code.

"It's both writing the code, but you also need to do validation. So someone had to take these vehicles out, test them on the standard test cycle, make sure that the emission controls are supposed to be working when they're supposed to be working," he says.

German's group turned its data over to the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. He says things like this start with one little lie or cheat at a time.

"You take a little step, you don't get caught. So yeah, you take another little step," he says. "And then maybe you don't even realize how far over the line you are."

So does he feel vindicated?

"I think vindicated is the wrong word. I feel satisfaction that we have contributed to something that will have a major impact on public health," he says. "But vindication implies that we are out to get somebody. And we weren't. We had no idea that this was out there."

The question now for investigators and prosecutors from Korea to Germany to the U.S. is how many people at Volkswagen knew and how far up that knowledge went.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ralph Nader aims to share impact, importance of tort law at Winsted museum

Ralph Nader aims to share impact, importance of tort law at Winsted museum

Signage has recently been installed at the American Museum of Tort Law, at 654 Main St. in Winsted.Ben Lambert — The Register Citizen


WINSTED >> Ralph Nader has been working to bring the American Museum of Tort Law into existence for the last decade-plus — and now, that effort is about to come to fruition, as the institution is set to open in Winsted later this month.
Nader hopes that the museum will be a boon for the downtown — another installment in a series of businesses and initiatives that have recently come into the area.

Signage has recently been installed at the American Museum of Tort Law, at 654 Main St. in Winsted.

“Winsted is a perfect place (for the museum). It’s part of the early industrial revolution, where factories were built and workers were injured … historically it’s finely suited. Secondly, it’s my home town,” said Nader. “And the third is, Winsted is coming back in quite a few ways … Whiting Mills, with 60-plus craftspeople … then you have the American Mural Project, that’s going to be a big tourist destination. So you have: the only law museum in North America will be in Winsted, the only gigantic worker mural project in North America will be in Winsted. And finally, it’s a beautiful bank building — it looks like a museum. It’s got good parking, near Bradley Airport on a major highway.”
While some may consider tort law an esoteric topic, and thus an unlikely basis for a museum, Nader does not believe this is the case, as it concerns our standards for aspects of day-to-day life — cars, medicine, living spaces — that affect every American.
Showcasing the history of tort law in a museum — and thus putting the evolution of protections for everyday Americans in front of visitors, plain as day — Nader believes, will drive the importance of this aspect of the law home.
“It’s very visual. They’ll resonate with their own experience. Everybody drives, most people take medicines, people buy products that don’t work or are harmful. And it just resonates,” said Nader. “Unlike most museums, which are sort of curiosity places, like a coin-collecting museum or an art museum — they’re interesting, but you don’t leave and start talking about it in terms of your own experiences with your friends and co-workers and relatives. So in this sense, this museum deals with a dimension of American society that affects more people than any other sector of the law. Tort law affects more people, directly and indirectly, than any other segment of the law, because it’s the law that makes our country safer, healthier and more free.”
Nader hopes that the museum informs the public about the importance of tort law, and how it has allowed Americans to shape societal standards directly over time.
“When you file a lawsuit, you don’t have to ask permission. Like if you want a regulation, a safety regulation, you’ve got to beg some agency in Hartford or Washington. If you want to get something from the legislatures, you’ve got to beg. But if you’re wrongfully injured, and you can go to a lawyer on a contingent fee — the lawyer charges you only if he wins, or she wins… you don’t have to ask anybody. So it’s direct democracy,” said Nader. “Mostly, (throughout the world), you have boards, administrative boards, like our failing workers’ compensation system, where it’s like a meat chart — you have so many stagnant dollars for a leg lost, or an arm lost… it’s very politicized, it doesn’t keep up with inflation and so on. So that’s where our civil justice system has led to so much deterrence.”
“The sequence, as I pointed out, is, for example, a lawsuit exposes the Toyota sudden acceleration involving millions of cars, or the airbag defects of Takata, and so on. Then that gets into the media, and that brings it to the attention of the NHTSA… who initiate investigation, who start demanding recalls, or higher safety standards. You see the sequence? It’s a very healthy sequence. You don’t see that in most countries.”
Plans for the future of the museum, according to Nader, include the creation of a full-size courtroom with “expanded web and media facilities,” which will allow the activities that go on there, as well as coverage of news regarding new developments in tort law, to be streamed online.
Other possibilities include inviting high school students to re-enact famous trials, and hosting lecturers and speakers from across the legal world, including judges and jurors.
The museum is set to open on Saturday, Sept. 26, with an opening ceremony that will include a dedication ceremony and a convocation within The Gilbert School auditorium and feature speeches from, among others, both Nader and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“We’d really like people in the area to attend,” said Nader. “(If) people from Torrington and Winsted want to come, all the seats are available. They’re going fast, so they can do that right away.”
Nader suggests that those interested contact the American Museum of Tort Law, either by calling 202-387-8030 or emailing the institution through its website,

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Buick Enclave hits building in Summit Township, leaves driver with minor injuries, police say

Ya gotta love the willingness to label PEDAL DYSLEXIA without evidence, especially when the National Car Wash Association has a list of vehicles prone to ACCELERATE:  


Car hits building in Summit Township, leaves driver with minor injuries, police say

By Theresa Ghiloni | 
on September 02, 2015

SUMMIT TWP., MI – A 77-year-old woman sped across four lanes of traffic, a parking lot and drove through a fence before crashing into a building Wednesday night on Horton Road, police said.

Jackson County sheriff Deputy Don Cherry said the woman suffered minor injuries in the crash that occurred just before 5 p.m. Sept. 2 in the 1900 block of Horton Road near Badgley Road. The driver refused medical treatment at the scene and told investigators she had been turning left out of Kelly Express Mart, 1825 Horton Road, when she lost control of her Buick Enclave, he said.

"She claims it may have been a mechanical issue but my suspicion is she may have mistook the gas for the brake," Cherry said. "When that happens people have a tendency to panic and hit (the gas) harder."

Max Iseler, 21, and Austin Dunn, 18, said they were in the parking lot of Key Largo Lounge when they heard tires squealing and saw the woman's vehicle whip out of the gas station and across the road. Iseler said the vehicle then narrowly missed a parked car, tore down a fence separating the parking lot from an adjacent property and crashed into an empty commercial building.

The men said they rushed to the vehicle to help anyone who might be hurt and found the female driver conscious. 

"She missed all traffic somehow," Iseler said. "I don't even know how that happened."
Cherry said the driver was cited for careless driving.

Summit Township fire Lt. Aaron Osburn said his department also responded to the scene because of concerns regarding the structural integrity of the damaged building but he added most of the damage appeared to be superficial.

Jackson Community Ambulance also assisted at the scene.

Unsafe At Any Speed Redux!

Poorly designed vehicles and NHTSA's failures to address serious safety issues cost lives and fill prisons. 

It's time for NHTSA to do its job and for manufacturers to stop defending defective vehicles. 

Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Convictions Being Reversed as Drivers Blame Corporations for Auto Defects

Last month, a judge in Pennsylvania reversed the involuntary manslaughter conviction of LaKisha Ward-Green.

The judge found that a faulty General Motors ignition switch contributed to her crashing into a school bus, killing her boyfriend who was sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle she was driving.

In a similar case last year, a judge cleared Candice Anderson in the death of her boyfriend, Gene Mikale Erickson.

Anderson pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the case in 2007.

It turned out that the GM ignition switch was involved in the deadly crash.

In 2007, Kuoa Fong Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison for a 2006 crash that killed three people. But Fong Lee was was released from prison in 2010. Lee’s lawyers argued that the 1996 Toyota Camry Lee was driving suddenly accelerated and Lee couldn’t stop it.

“Opponents of white collar criminal prosecutions argue that corporate managers should not be charged criminally for regulatory violations because health, safety, and environmental rules are too complex to understand and violations of such arcane requirements do not cause real harm,” says Rena Steinzor, author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction. “Both arguments are revealed as hypocritical by the criminal prosecutions of three drivers who had fatal accidents as a result of a defect that the manufacturers’ executives covered up. All of these accidents caused fatalities and the drivers were charged with versions of vehicular manslaughter or reckless driving. Only after suffering through great hardship and, in one case, two years in prison, were they exonerated by belated disclosure of corporate malfeasance. The cases are just the latest example of the double standard that prevails between street and white collar crime.”

Now comes Cristina Small.

She’s looking for a lawyer to get her fiance, Bryan Harrell, out of prison.

Harrell is in prison for 15 years after pleading guilty to one count of vehicular homicide in connection with the death of four year old Remington Walden.

In March 2012, Walden was riding in the rear seat of a Jeep Grand Cherokee when it was hit on the rear end by Harrell’s truck. The Jeep’s gas tank was located behind the rear axle. Walden survived the crash but burned to death in the inferno that engulfed the Grand Cherokee.

The Center for Auto Safety says that more than 70 people have burned to death in similar Jeep Cherokee crashes.

Walden’s parents sued Chrysler. A Georgia civil jury found Chrysler to be 99 percent liable for the death of Walden and Harrell to be one percent liable.

The jury ordered Chrysler to pay the Waldens $150 million.

A judge has since reduced the award to $40 million.

Christina Small attended every day of the two week civil trial against Chrysler. The trial was held in Bainbridge, Georgia — the site of the crash.

“There was not one Chrysler employee there to show any remorse for this child’s death,” Small told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “They had some expert witnesses and every single one was caught in lies after lies after lies. They were paid anywhere from $700 to $1000 a hour to testify for Chrysler.”

“There was the lady who did the autopsy report. She found that Remington Walden burned to death. He was still alive in the Jeep when it exploded. The only thing he suffered from the collision was the bone fracture in his leg. If it wasn’t for the misplaced gas tank — eleven and a half inches from the rear bumper behind the rear axle, Remington would still have been alive. If the gas tank were located in front of the rear axle, like in most vehicles, Remington would still have been alive. Putting the gas tank behind the rear axle is just setting yourself up for failure.”

Small says that when she sees a Jeep Grand Cherokee now, she tries to find the owner to warn them of the danger.

“I pray for every single person who rides inside them,” Small said. “I pray that they don’t have a child inside. I do pass them going down the highway. And of course, I can’t stop in the middle of the highway. But if I see a vehicle parked in a parking lot of a store, I will wait outside until the people come back to their vehicles. And I will walk over to the vehicle and show them their gas tank.”

“And I will show them — this is your gas tank — this is not safe. I will tell them that my fiance was in a wreck and a four year old child burned to death. This vehicle is not safe. If you get rear ended, your vehicle is going to blow up. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a high speed or a low speed collision, this vehicle is going to blow up. They had evidence in the courtroom of several cases where they showed pictures of people in the same kind of accidents and the vehicles just barely had a scratch on them and blew up. The gas leaks and it catches on fire.

There is nothing to protect the gas tank.”

“I’ve told at least fifteen to twenty people how dangerous these vehicles are.”

Have you convinced anyone to turn in their Jeeps and get a different car?

“A few,” Small said. “I saw one lady at Walmart walking to her Jeep. I said ma’am — may I please show you something? I showed her her tank and how dangerous it was. And I said — ma’am you need to get yourself a different vehicle. This is very dangerous. She said she was going through a divorce at the time and she could not afford another vehicle and that was the only means of transportation she had. Another lady who worked at a store, I told her– and she acted iffy about it — like oh, okay. But every time I would go that store, I would say — are you doing something about that vehicle? Your baby is riding in that vehicle — it’s dangerous. If you get in a wreck, your babies might not get out safe.”

Small says that the district attorney tried to charge Harrell with a DUI, “because Bryan had a past.”

“But Bryan was not DUI,” Small says. “He had changed his life around. I was pregnant with his child.”

Why would they charge him with a DUI if he was not –

“He has a history in Bainbridge. Bainbridge is a very small town. They already had it out for him.”

They charged him with DUI with no evidence that he was drunk?

“Not that he was drunk. Evidence for drugs.”

He had a history of drug use?

“Correct,” Small said. “And that had nothing to do with this wreck. He was not DUI that day. We hired the expert witness from Atlanta. This expert went deeper down – and there was not enough to register on the lowest calibration test. The DUI was thrown out. When the DA saw this expert witness come into the courthouse, he automatically went into the room and dropped the charge from the DUI to reckless driving. And it came out in the civil suit against Chrysler that Bryan was not driving recklessly. He was following the traffic laws that day.”

Small says that at his plea hearing, Bryan told the judge what happened.

“After Bryan told the judge what happened, the judge says to Bryan — You are telling me it was an accident?”

“Bryan said — yes sir, I am.”

“And the judge said — it wasn’t homicide by vehicle, it was just an accident?”

“Bryan said — yes sir.”

“And the judge said — it sounds like to me I can’t accept this plea either if he is not guilty.

“Then the transcript says — discussion off the record between client and counsel.”

“This is when his lawyer got him to be quiet. His lawyer forced him to take this plea.”

“Then Bryan says — yes sir, I can attest to the reckless driving part because I feel that when I was letting off my brake, I still should have been on my brake. And that to me would qualify as the reckless driving part on my behalf.”

“That’s not right.”

“Bryan then says — in my heart, I felt it was an accident. But I knew I had something to do with it. And that’s the reason for the plea today.”

“The judge says — were you in fact drinking?”

“Bryan said — no sir.”

Bryan or his lawyer didn’t raise the issue of the Jeep tank being placed behind the rear axle?

“No,” Small says. “We were new parents. The lawyer said — if you don’t take this plea you are looking at 30 years in prison. His lawyer said 50 percent of him wanted to take it to trial and 50 percent did not want to.”

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