Tyler Wilkinson, 17, of Long Beach died in a fatal Santa Clara County rollover accident after the Jeep Wrangler he was riding in crashed into a vehicle trying to merge onto Highway 152 near Dunne Street. According to this news report, the auto accident occurred when 28-year-old Erika Neves of San Jose merged onto the freeway from the shoulder where she had parked.
The driver of the 2008 Jeep Wrangler tried to avoid Neves’ 2005 Mazda sedan, but ended up striking the back of the Mazda, which spun around and came to rest on the right shoulder. The Jeep continued up the freeway shoulder and up an embankment before rolling over and landing on its wheels. Tyler, who was the right front passenger, was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the Jeep was an unidentified juvenile and was uninjured. The driver’s father, 60-year-old Manual Madula, who was also a passenger in the Jeep, suffered head and chest injuries. Neves suffered minor cuts to her face and arm.
My heart goes out to the family of the teenager, Tyler Wilkinson. I offer my condolences to the family for their terrible loss.
The one thing that jumps out at me from this news report is that everyone involved in this auto accident was buckled up. So that leads to the question: why was Tyler ejected from the Jeep Wrangler? Tyler’s family would be well-advised to retain the services of a an auto defect attorney to investigate whether seat belt failure played a role in Tyler being ejected from the vehicle, which essentially caused him to suffer those fatal injuries from the rollover.
A skilled personal injury attorney will also look into every detail of an auto accident and help determine who was at fault. If Neves is determined to be responsible for the accident because of unsafe merging, then she could be held financially liable for the accident. If Neves does not have insurance or sufficient coverage, then the victims could be covered through their own auto insurer’s uninsured or underinsured coverage.
We’re seeing more and more incidents every day where seat belts are simply not doing enough to protect vehicle occupants during auto accidents, especially in rollovers. About 2,000 people die each year in rollover accidents although they are belted – and about 400 of those are partially or totally ejected, according to this Public Citizen report. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that belted occupants represent more than half of all deaths and injuries in roof-crush rollovers. To me, something is terribly wrong when people who are wearing a seat belt are getting ejected from vehicles.
Rollover deaths, which account for more than 10,000 auto accident fatalities in the United States, are completely preventable if only auto makers made the right choices in terms of design changes. The type of seats, windows, roofs and seat belts that these manufacturers put in our automobiles can determine how many people live or die in rollover accidents due to seat back failure, roof-crush or seatbelt failure.