On Sept. 29, first responders in Orlando discovered Hien Tran inside her 2001 Honda Accord at the site of a head-on car crash with deep cuts in her neck. After she died they investigated the case as a homicide, only to later realize defective Takata airbags actually caused her death.
Tran, 51, is now the third person whose death has been linked to the faulty airbags found in millions of Hondas, BMWs, Toyotas and other cars. Her injuries from the airbags — which explode and send shrapnel flying into the cars' occupants — were so severe that police suspected she had been murdered.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Tran left her family's nail salon business that night and was involved in a wreck on the way home. While the petite Tran was sitting with her chest almost touching the steering wheel, her injuries didn't seem consistent with a car crash. Rescue workers said it appeared she had knife wounds.
"According to the EMS and firefighters on the scene they stated the driver … had 2 or 3 deep cuts on the right side of her neck that were not consistent with crash injuries," the crash reported stated. "There were no windows broken … that would cause sharp glass to penetrate a human's body. Therefore, the force of the crash was not significant enough to cause great bodily harm to any occupant in both vehicles."
Tran never regaining consciousness after the crash and died on Oct. 2. Homicide detectives even located someone they believed to be a person of interest in the case, but cleared him later.
The case went unsolved for about a week until the breakthrough arrived in the mail — a letter from Honda urging Tran to get her Accord fixed because it had the faulty Takata airbags, the New York Times reported.
When Ms. Tran crashed her car, the air bag, instead of protecting her, appeared to have exploded and sent shrapnel flying into her neck, the Orange County sheriff's office said. On Monday, in an unusual warning, federal safety regulators urged the owners of more than five million vehicles to "act immediately" to get the air bags fixed.
Tran's used Accord was included in a 2009 recall, but its previous owners did not get the repair done. At least two other deaths are linked to the defect.
The Takata airbag recalls affect more than 14 million cars, and some manufacturers have widened their recalls and re-issued notices in recent days. Vehicles located in the Gulf Coast, the U.S. island territories and other humid areas are especially at risk.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a list of all known affected cars yesterday, which you can see here.