ATLANTA - Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland has learned a Georgia case is playing a key role in the government's effort to recall more than 2 million Jeeps to fix a fire hazard.
March 6 last year in Bainbridge, Ga., Remington Walden, 4, was on his way to tennis practice while strapped into the back seat of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"They were stopped to turn. They were struck from behind by a pickup truck, and when the vehicle was struck it caught on fire and burst into flames," said family attorney Leigh May.
Walden was killed in the fire.
The Jeep had a low-hanging rear-mounted gas tank, the kind Chrysler is refusing to recall despite a government request to do so.
Safety regulators had been studying the gas tank problem for more than two years.
"There already was an investigation going on when this wreck happened, and the family didn't know about it. They had no idea this could happen to their son, and he was their only child. He was everything," said May.
"I think that Chrysler is showing a feeling of non-caring. It's like, 'We've got the money and we're going to keep it,'" said Jeep owner Edie Bailey. "This is a scary thing. I didn't know this was happening."
Bailey learned of the Jeep issue from a WSB-TV Facebook post.
"This was something that Chrysler has known about for a long time," May said.
Strickland obtained from sources a 1978 memo in which Chrysler engineers express "concern" the type of tank placement "creates a mismatch with passenger car bumpers."
The memo states "protective impact deflection" shields may be needed to protect the tank in a crash.
That smoking gun document may not mean a big jury verdict. May said Chrysler's bankruptcy is designed so that the new company cannot be punished by jury's dealing with the old company's cars.
"None of the vehicles that are involved in this recall ... These cases, are going to be punitive damages cases," she said.
In the Walden lawsuit, Chrysler is denying all wrongdoing. As for the federal request for a recall, Chrysler says its Jeeps are safe.