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Old 08-09-2003, 01:24   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Court rejects claim that faulty tire resulted in murder

By Kevin O'Hanlon / Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. cannot be held liable in the death of a 19-year-old woman who was murdered while trying to change a flat tire, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court ruled in a case stemming from the 2000 murder of Amy Stahlecker, a Wayne State College freshman who became stranded on U.S. Highway 275 west of Omaha because of a blown tire.

Prosecutors said Richard Cook, 36, of Omaha, picked up Stahlecker and later shot her. Cook was convicted of first-degree murder, and is serving a life sentence.

The woman's parents, Susan and Dale Stahlecker of Fremont, claimed in the lawsuit that a Firestone Wilderness AT tire failed on the 1997 Ford Explorer driven by their daughter, setting off the events that ended in her murder.

The lawsuit claimed that Firestone was negligent in making the defective tire and that Ford was negligent in putting it on one of its vehicles.

The high court said while there was evidence that the companies were negligent in making the tire and putting it on the vehicle, they could not have foreseen Cook's criminal acts.

The court said the lawsuit "alleges no facts upon which either Ford or Firestone would have a legal duty to anticipate and guard against the criminal acts which were committed at that location by another party."

The lawsuit alleged the flat tire "put Amy at great risk and left her in a situation where she was ultimately abducted, terrorized, raped and murdered."

Dodge County District Judge F.A. Gossett III had dismissed both Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. from the lawsuit. Gossett ruled that state law shields Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone from liability unless they had "specific and actual notice of danger" to Amy Stahlecker.

He also had ruled that the companies could not have foreseen Cook's actions, because they "are not the type of harm that either Ford or Bridgestone/Firestone could foresee or protect against."

The state Supreme Court's ruling leaves Cook as the only defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit. The high court upheld his conviction and sentence on Aug. 1.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., has recalled millions of ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires since August 2000 because federal safety officials found they were prone to losing their tread while traveling at high speeds.

At least 271 U.S. traffic deaths have been linked to the failed tires, most of which were sold as original equipment on the Ford Explorer.

The Stahlecker's lawyer, Richard Rensch, said the court ignored a ruling it made in an earlier case that said: "If the affects of the actors negligence actively and continuously operate to bring about harm to another ... the actor is not protected from liability".

"If Amy had been warned, she could have made up her own mind about venturing out on that fateful early morning drive," Rensch said.

Dan MacDonald, a spokesman for the tire company, hailed the ruling but expressed empathy for the Stahleckers.

"Your heart has to go out to the Stahleckers. They had a tragic loss. Unfortunately, no legal remedy is going to heal their pain," he said. "But clearly, the only person responsible for this senseless loss of life is Richard Cook."

Cook testified at trial that he and Amy Stahlecker had consensual sex after he stopped to help her at 3 a.m. on April 29, 2000. Cook said a friend of his killed Stahlecker after she refused his sexual advances.

That friend testified that Cook confessed to him about killing Stahlecker.

Her body was found under the Elkhorn River bridge at Waterloo, about 15 miles west of Omaha.
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