Arkansas Deaths Prompt Safety Group Asks GM For Trunk-Latch Recall

June 22, 2009

A safety foundation has asked General Motors Corp. to recall its 2000-01 sedans and refit their trunks with emergency-release latches after two Arkansas children were found dead in the trunk of a 2000 Chevrolet Malibu.

Kansas-based Kids and Cars said that while Ford has installed glow-in-the-dark handles inside all trunks since 2000, General Motors offered the latches only as an option on models made before 2002.

“If these two children found themselves trapped inside a 2000 Ford trunk, they would be alive today,” the group said in a statement.

GM said it was too early to say what action the company might take in the wake of deaths.

“We don’t have all of the facts. We know very unfortunately that two children died in this situation and we’re extremely saddened,” said Janine Fruehan, a spokeswoman for the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich.

Washington County Coroner Roger Morris said it appears 5-year-old Curtis Markley and 4-year-old Virginia Markley of Springdale died accidentally in the car’s trunk on June 15. The state Crime Laboratory at Little Rock was asked to examine the bodies.

Police said it is likely that the children were playing in the trunk when it closed. Sgt. Shane Pegram said the siblings likely died of asphyxiation but that further investigation was needed. Temperatures were nearly 90 degrees that afternoon.

“Kids love to get into little areas; just kids being curious,” said Janette Fennell, the founder of Kids and Cars in Leawood, Kan. She said the group sent a letter to General Motors and to federal regulators asking for a recall.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data for “non-traffic” deaths in January that showed three people died in 2003-04 after being closed inside a trunk. In a one-month period of 1998, 11 children were found dead in car trunks, prompting calls for trunk-release latches.

An agency study concluded in 1999 said that 1,175 people had become trapped in car trunks between 1970 and 1998. Most were abducted adults or children who accidentally locked themselves in.

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