Fatal Takata Truck Blast Was ‘Like a Big Bomb,’ Sheriff Says

  • Cause of initial early-morning accident still unknown, he said
  • Takata spokesman says no impact on deliveries to customers

The truck carrying Takata Corp. air-bag inflators exploded “like a big bomb,” said the Texas sheriff whose officers rushed the scene. The cause of the grisly accident last week isn’t known, he said, and the damage was so extensive that a woman killed in the blast was identified only through dental records.

“It created a big crater,” said Tom Schmerber, the sheriff of Maverick County, where the Aug. 22 accident occurred. “It burned and killed a woman in a house 30 feet away. Her body was completely disintegrated, but they did manage to find two teeth so they could identify her.”

It’s another gruesome setback for the auto-parts maker behind the industry’s largest-ever recall, now facing possible investigations into its transportation policies after a subcontractor’s truck carrying air-bag inflators exploded, killing one and injuring four people. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he’s “concerned about it” and told the department to investigate.

The truck was carrying 14,000 cylinders that contain air-bag propellant, Schmerber said, adding that people in houses 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away called to report broken windows and holes in their roofs. After the crash, many cylinders were scattered across the road and fields. Nearby residents were scared to approach the crash scene on tractors or horseback because they were worried about running over them and triggering additional explosions, he said.

It’s still unclear what caused the truck’s 2 a.m. accident, Schmerber said. The driver and a passenger managed to escape, but two people in a passing car were hurt in the explosion. The accident occurred on U.S. Highway 277, Schmerber said, as the truck was traveling from Del Rio, Texas, to a Takata plant in Eagle Pass.

Possible Investigations

“Now that this has happened, it’s raising eyebrows about Takata,” he said.

Takata has safety procedures relating to the transportation of its products that meet or exceed regulatory requirements, the company said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman who died as a result of this accident, and with the four people injured.”

Takata doesn’t expect the accident “to have any impact on our ability to meet commitments we’ve made to customers,” Jared Levy, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The incident is the latest involving Takata propellant that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said will be phased-out unless the supplier is able to assure the regulator of its safety. The company is planning a restructuring and seeking buyers after its inflators ruptured and sprayed metal and plastic shards at vehicle occupants, leading to as many as 15 deaths, including 10 in the U.S.

Officials from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is leading the investigation into the crash and subsequent explosion, Transportation Department spokesman Clark Pettig said in an e-mail. The probe will determine whether U.S. safety regulations were violated, he said.

“Every possible factor or factors -- including the safety compliance of the motor carrier, the handling of the cargo by the shipper, its packaging, how the truck was placarded, as well as the truck’s routing -- and all other aspects will be thoroughly investigated,” Pettig said.

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