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    Family sues Ford in fatal SUV accident

    The lawsuit claims Ford knew its Explorer was apt to roll over because of defects.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 27, 2002

    LARGO -- The family of a Bay News 9 promotions writer and editor has filed suit against the Ford Motor Co. six months after her Ford Explorer flipped over in a crash, killing her.

    Annie Reina Earle, 33, was four months pregnant when, while driving the Explorer on Interstate 95 in South Carolina on Oct. 21, she swerved to avoid another vehicle that turned into her path.

    The back tires of Mrs. Earle's 1998 Explorer jerked into the opposite direction of the front tires, causing the vehicle to spin out of control, her husband said not long after the crash.

    The lawsuit, filed last week in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, alleges that Ford knew its Explorer was apt to roll over in certain traffic situations because of design defects in the vehicle's suspension.

    Mrs. Earle's husband, William Earle, and the couple's two boys, now ages 3 and 5, suffered minor injuries in the crash.

    "I had thought about filing the suit for a while," Earle said from his Largo home Friday. "I thought my late wife deserved it. It needed to be done in her memory."

    A spokeswoman for Ford declined to comment because the company had not yet been served. But the company said the Explorer is one of the safest sports utility vehicles on the road.

    Mrs. Earle, who had been wearing her seat belt, died of massive head injuries.

    The lawsuit says that Ford engineers, prior to the accident, had discovered that problems with the Explorer shock absorber assembly and suspension "led or contributed to rollover accidents that were killing people."

    "Ford knew about the safety issues with this vehicle," said Earle's attorney, Omar F. Medina of Tampa. The suit does not involve any allegation of a tire blowout. Ford has grappled with numerous lawsuits involving allegations of defective Firestone tires. A St. Petersburg Times investigation last year found that 41 people had been killed in Florida since 1997 in crashes involving Explorers with Firestone tires.

    Ford blamed faulty tires, though the tire manufacturer has argued that the Explorers have a propensity to roll over more frequently than other vehicles.

    The Earle family's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.

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