TORRANCE, Calif.—On Sept. 24, a 1997 Ford Explorer shod with four different brands of used tires crashed on a Long Beach, Calif., freeway killing an 18-year-old California man.
Investigators from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) believe a tread separated from a General-brand tire on the left rear wheel causing 27-year-old Adolfo Morales of Downey, Calif., to lose control of the vehicle.
"When the tread separated, the driver slammed on the brakes," said Officer John Tye, a public affairs officer for the CHP. Out of control, the vehicle careened off the side of the highway, rolled down an embankment and hit a tree.
Bryan Morales, the driver's brother, was riding in the rear cargo area and was killed in the crash. The other four adult passengers, who were wearing seat belts and a four-month-old baby riding in a safety seat survived.
Two of the victims were taken to a local hospital, said Battalion Chief Rick Pillsbury of the Long Beach Fire Department, but their injuries were not serious.
The accident occurred at about 10 a.m. and the temperature was in the mid-70s, Mr. Tye said. Witnesses told authorities the vehicle was not speeding or being driven erratically prior to the accident.
Mr. Morales, the driver, told NBC-TV's "Dateline" program that he heard a loud thump and then lost control of the Explorer.
CHP officers examined the tire after the accident, Mr. Tye said, and saw no cuts or other damage to the tire except for the separated tread. In fact, the tire still had some air pressure inside it after the accident, he said.
Mr. Tye said the tires were all the same size, but he could not give the exact size information or the brands of the other three tires.
CHP Officer Jim Mann said the incident was still under investigation and he could not provide details about it, though he confirmed that the Morales vehicle had four different brands of used tires.
He said the tires were purchased "some time ago," before Bridgestone Firestone Inc.'s Aug. 9 recall of 6.5 million Firestone-brand light-truck tires.
Mr. Mann would not say where the tires were purchased or if Mr. Morales told authorities why his vehicle was shod with four different brands.
The driver had a valid license, the vehicle was insured and no citations have been issued, Mr. Tye said.
In the July 5, 1999, issue of Tire Business, it was reported that different-brand tires of the same size could have a variation of up to two inches in circumference.
Several tire dealers interviewed by TB at the time said some drivers experienced handling problems and/or drivetrain damage when using an unmatched set of tires on four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicles.