Over 287 people have died in 202 fiery crashes involving 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, more than the ill-famed Ford Pinto in the 1970s. The ones with the power to recall these faulty-designed Jeeps have allowed Chrysler’s intimidation to stall the process of their investigation.
Allow me to share the grim details of two doomed victims in their last 60 living seconds. I witnessed their last breaths taken while sitting in a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Be warned that my story is shocking and disturbing. The reason I am telling it is in hopes to get your signature and avoid my story becoming your story.
On Friday October 5, 2012, just after work, I went to my Dad’s place in Frederick County, Virginia. Dad just purchased a car that week and wanted me to drive it to see how impressive it handled on the highway.
As soon as we entered I81, we found ourselves sitting in stopped traffic at the back of the line. I was chuckling and commenting how we were on the highway, but sitting in a traffic jam. I didn’t finish my comment. We were hit.
We immediately went into a spin. Shattered glass showered us as our windows exploded. I saw flashes of the same big rig over and over, all around our car. The hits kept coming.
Our car landed in the guardrail. Dad and I got out of the car and found ourselves standing in the middle of I81 in the darkness of night. At this point, we had just had the most horrifying experience of our lives. Sadly, the next 60 seconds will be a million times more horrific.
Once out of our car, I wondered if I was in a nightmare. My Dad came around the car pointing to a big rig pulled over on the shoulder 50 yards away. My Dad said, “We were being run over by that tractor trailer.” My Dad had not yet noticed the Jeep across the road from us, which was also hit by the truck. I was looking right into the small fire at the back of the Jeep. I guess I went into a state of shock. Already hyperventilating and sobbing at what I was afraid I was about to witness, my Dad looked at me and got worried. He asked if I was okay. I gestured for my Dad to look towards the Jeep as I said, “I'm okay but those people...” I could hear and see the Mom and 2 teenage boys struggling.
Dad immediately ran to the Jeep. The doors were jammed so he busted out a window with his bare hands and leaned into the Jeep. Dad grabbed the first person in his reach, the teen in the front passenger seat. The teen was pinned only by his seatbelt. Dad yelled at the teen that there was a fire and that they had to get out fast. That teen ignored this complete stranger leaning in his jeep yelling at him. Tormenting fear and excruciating worry regarding the fate of his mother next to him and his friend in the back seat were the teen’s only considerations. The Mom seemed in shock, like me, but knew my Dad was trying to help them. She reached over and released her teen’s seat belt. My Dad pulled her son out the window and away from the Jeep. As the saved teen was sobbing with concern for his mother and his friend in this dire circumstance, my Dad focused on the teen in the back struggling to get out.
My Dad pulled but that teen was pinned. Jeeps’ back seats collapse in a crash. That teen could not get his hand to the latch of his seatbelt. As the pinned teen struggled to get out of the backseat, my Dad ran around the front of the Jeep towards the driver’s door to help the Mom.
The Mom was not trying to get out. She watched my Dad running, perhaps wondering why the rush. Then there was the noise. It was a gushing noise that brought fire… lots of fire. The entire vehicle was swallowed up by flames. At the moment the fire consumed the Jeep, the teen in the back was still hopeful of getting out, the Mom was still processing the wreck that had just happened, and the saved teen was still hopeful the three of them would be arriving home together that night, as planned.
My Dad changed direction continuing to run but away from the blistering Jeep. In that instant, they burned to death. My Dad barely escaped the fire. Dad ran over to me shaking his head and said, in a heartbreaking tone, “That’s it. It’s over.” Dad and I stood in front of the Jeep and watched in horror as the Mom and teen burned to death. The saved teen watched the burning Jeep too as he tearfully screamed, “Mom! Mom!”
After those 60 seconds, witnesses surfaced. We learned that a big rig came up behind us and did not see the stopped traffic. With his improper brakes (charges pending Frederick County VA GDC adjudicatory hearing 04/16/2013), he probably wouldn’t have stopped in time anyway. The Jeep was behind us and took the first impact, was pushed into our car, and then landed in the guardrail of the right shoulder. With the Jeep to the right, our vehicle bounced around in front of the big rig as it kept moving and kept hitting us over and over until we bounced into the guardrail of the left shoulder. The only survivor in that Jeep was the teen my Dad pulled through the window.
The surviving teen’s family reportedly feel like they lost him in the accident too. The surviving teen will never be the person they once knew, not after watching that Jeep go up in fire with his young mom and his schoolmate still inside.
This happened over 3 months ago. I still hear those boys’ screams. I still smell the stench of burning people. After seeing firsthand how a Jeep can turn two living speaking humans into two dead silent skeletons before our eyes, I am angry that these Jeeps are on the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started an investigation of these Jeeps in 2009. Sign this petition to get the 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, which have the gas tank behind the rear axle, off the road immediately and for good. People are surviving all kinds of traffic accidents only to tragically gruesomely burn to death after the accident.
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
Secretary Ray LaHood
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Administrator David Strickland
- CEO of Chrysler Group LLC
On Friday, October 5, 2012, Heather Santor (39) and Acoye’ Breckenridge (18) were joyfully traveling home from West Virginia University to enjoy a 3-day holiday weekend. Instead of arriving home, they burned to death in a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been hit from behind in stopped traffic on I81 in Winchester VA. Heather's son, Zackary Santor, was heroically rescued by a Good Samaritan who broke the Jeep's window and pulled Zack away from the Jeep, only to witness his mother and friend burn to death. The Jeep erupted into a ball of flames before Heather and Acoye’ could be rescued.
The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a plastic gas tank located behind the rear axle just like the Ford Pinto. The Grand Cherokee's gas tank is larger and even extends below the rear bumper where a low-front-end vehicle like a Chevrolet Lumina, Ford Taurus, or Toyota Sienna can ride under it and rip the tank open.
The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees have been involved in at least 202 fatal fiery crashes with at least 287 deaths. This is 10 times more fiery crash deaths than the ill-famed Ford Pinto, which had 28 deaths in fiery crashes when NHTSA recalled it in 1978. Crash tests done by the Center for Auto Safety and Federal Highway Administration show the Grand Cherokee's fuel tank ruptures in rear impacts as low as 40 mph but the Ford Explorer has no rupture in rear impacts over 70 mph! The chances of occupants burning to death in a Grand Cherokee are 20 times higher than occupants of a Ford Explorer.
In response to an October 2009 safety defect petition from the Center for Auto Safety, NHTSA opened a defect investigation in 2010. Chrysler has fought the investigation every step of the way while mothers like Heather Santor, and teenagers like Acoye’ Breckenridge, die excruciating deaths in exploding 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees. In March 2012, Remington Cole Walden became the second 4-year child old to burn to death in a Jeep Grand Cherokee while in his child restraint.
Secretary LaHood and Administrator Strickland, it's time to stop Chrysler's stonewalling and order the recall of the 2 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees before more innocent people like Heather, Acoye’, and Cole die in fires after surviving the rear crashes of their Grand Cherokees.
Jenelle Embrey started this petition with a single signature, and won with 128,793 supporters. Start a petition to change something you care about.