Too many Southern Californians still driving vehicles with deadly Takata air bags, officials say

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Hundreds of thousands of Southland motorists are risking serious injury or death because they’re driving recalled vehicles with faulty air bag inflators, a coalition of civic and community leaders said Monday.

Speaking at a news conference at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in downtown Los Angeles, the group said it’s looking to get the word out that defective Takata air bag inflators could potentially send a blast of jagged shrapnel into a car’s passenger compartment, even minor collisions.

The largest auto recall in U.S. history

“The ongoing air bag inflator recall is the largest auto recall in U.S. history and it demands immediate attention, especially here in Southern California,” said Curren Price, a member of the Los Angeles City Council. “More than 1 million defective air bag inflators in Southern California remain unrepaired, putting far too many members of our community at risk.”

And some are deemed to be at greater risk than others.

Owners of Honda and Acura vehicles are especially at risk

While the recall affects as many as 42 million vehicles and 19 automakers, the air bag inflators in certain 2001-2003 Hondas and Acuras pose the biggest threat. The U.S. Department of Transportation says the inflators in those cars have as high as a 50 percent chance of exploding, even during a fender bender.

Those models include the 2001 and 2002 Honda Civic, the 2001 and 2002 Honda Accord, the 2002 Honda Odyssey, the 2002 Honda CR-V, the 2003 Honda Pilot, the 2002 and 2003 Acura TL and the 2003 Acura CL.

Owners of those vehicles are advised to schedule a free repair by calling 800-234-2138.

A mobilization effort has been launched to raise awareness

The leaders who gathered Monday in Los Angeles have launched a mobilization effort called “Airbag Recall: Southern California” to educate communities in the region about the potential risks of the defective inflators.

Leticia Barajas, vice president of academic affairs and workforce development at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, said the school is getting firmly behind the recall effort.

“We are integrating the whole community awareness campaign to promote the recall,” she said. “It’s especially important given the Spanish speaking community we have in our communities.”

Three Californians have died because of the defective air bag inflators

At least 11 Americans — including three Californians — have been killed by faulty air bag inflators and an estimated 180 Americans have suffered serious injuries, including lacerations to the face or neck, broken or fractured facial bones, loss of eyesight and broken teeth. The risk for Southern California motorists is especially high as the region’s summer temperatures can exacerbate the hair-trigger defect in Takata’s inflators.


A tragedy becomes personal

Araceli Cazales, an agent with State Farm Insurance, was also on hand at Monday’s news conference. She had been friends with Corona resident Delia Robles, who was killed in September of last year when the air bag inflator in her 2001 Honda Civic exploded.

Robles was driving along when a Chevy Colorado pickup truck turned in front of her, causing a collision.

“I’d like everyone to think about this,” Cazales said. “It’s Friday and you go about your normal day. Then you leave work and on your way home you decide to stop and get a flu shot. But before you make it to the clinic you get into a minor fender bender … and you are only driving 25 miles an hour. But your air bag explodes and shoots sharp pieces of metal toward your face and neck. These are the circumstances under which my friend Delia Robles lost her life.”

Robles was pronounced dead shortly after the accident at Parkview Community Hospital. Her son, Joe Contreras, 26, had purchased his mother’s car a year before the accident and it was later discovered that the vehicle had been resold three times at used-car auctions before he bought it.

The other two California deaths involved Hai Ming Xu, 47, of Rosemead who was killed Sept. 13, 2013 in Alhambra when he lost control of his 2002 Acura TL and sideswiped three parked cars before hitting the wall of a building, and Jewel Brangman, 26, of San Diego who lost her life on Sept. 7, 2014 when she rear-ended a van in her 2001 Honda Civic rental car.

Attorney John Buretta, who was selected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be an independent monitor for Takata and the Coordinated Remedy Program, showed photos of others who have been killed as a result of Takata’s defective air bag inflators.

“Parents have died, grandmothers have died … all-American gymnasts have died,” he said. “All walks of life are affected by this recall. Over a million unrepaired inflators are here in Southern California and we’re so grateful on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation that this coalition has come together to take on this issue, to raise awareness and to get the repairs done.”

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