A History of Fiery Deaths on the Road

Facing lawsuits, GM moved gas tanks of its C/K pickups inside the frame. But it denies the design was unsafe, and federal regulators retreated from a costly recall.

FIRST OF TWO PARTS

Robert Bugajski’s parents had heard that the General Motors C/K pickup trucks were rolling firebombs. When Bugajski went shopping for a used pickup, they declared those trucks off-limits.

But getting a different model didn’t save his life.

Bugajski, 17, of Carson City, Nev., was out for a drive in May 1997 when a C/K ran a stop sign directly in his path. He wasn’t going very fast–only 30 to 35 mph. But he broadsided the ’78 pickup, striking it where its nearly five-foot-long gas tank formed a big target on the outside of the truck’s protective frame.

Gasoline spewed from the ruptured tank and flames engulfed both trucks. Bugajski, burned over 60% of his body, was pulled from the cab moaning in agony. He lingered eight days before he died. The people in the C/K truck, Thomas and Jeanette Douglas, both 67, were incinerated on the spot.

“My son was everything to me,” Teresa Bugajski said. As for GM, she said, “I feel he’s a number to them.”

The three victims and dozens more might still be alive but for a fateful decision by the government to leave the trucks on the road despite evidence of the danger. In December 1994, federal safety regulators–in exchange for a GM payment of $51 million for safety programs–dropped an investigation that could have led to a recall.

Read more: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/29/news/mn-57243
Print Print  

Leave a comment