Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Defect not found in fatal accident

Van crushed woman into wall

By Janice Morse jmorse@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON - After more than a month of investigation, an engineer has concluded that no vehicle defects contributed to the accident that killed 39-year-old Susan Maus moments after she pushed her 6-year-old son to safety.

        Hamilton police declined to comment Monday except to say they consider the investigation closed.

        In a report prepared for Hamilton police, Ethan A. Parker,

        a registered professional engineer, said Mrs. Maus' van, a 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager, was stopped on a 7-percent to 8-percent downhill grade when it began rolling forward, then pinned her against a brick wall, causing fatal head injuries on June 20.

        Accident-reconstruction tests showed that engine torque would hold the van at rest on a grade as steep as 8 percent if the transmission had been unintentionally left in reverse rather than put into park, Mr. Parker said. His report describes “the most probable scenario” leading to the accident as Mrs. Maus visited a friend on Victor Court:

        After the van's occupants went inside the house, “the torque from the engine with the transmission in reverse held the van in position on the driveway.”

        Next, Mrs. Maus' 9-year-old daughter got into the van and moved to the right seat in the second row. “At this point, the van was no longer held at equilibrium, the van began to roll forward, and the events of the accident unfolded.”

        Mr. Parker said his conclusions were based on “a reasonable degree of engineering probability.” If the transmission had been engaged in park, the transmission would not have slipped out of park on its own, he said.

        The girl denied touching the gear-shift mechanism - and tests showed the lever was difficult to move and “it is extremely unlikely that a child could have unknowingly shifted the transmission from park to another position,” Mr. Parker said.

        He thinks it is more likely that “her weight and movement while entering the vehicle was sufficient to disrupt the equilibrium of the engine torque holding the Voyager motionless on the downhill slope.”


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