HIGHLAND PARK, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – More than two years after the deadly crash, one can still see the chilling reminders on a tree in front of a Highland Park home.
A blackened scar shows right where 34-year-old Sarah Loughran crashed her car head-on on Beverly Drive.
Graphic pictures taken by police officers at the scene, show right where the Carrollton mother’s face and teeth hit the steering wheel inside the car, right where an airbag should have deployed.
“I bought the car on Monday and Sarah was dead on Wednesday,” said Donald Loughran. Sarah’s father had to tell his grandson what happened. “Five years old and lose your mom. They were close.” Fighting back tears, Loughran said, “It has been hard on him.”
“This is absolutely an accident that should have been survivable,” said Dallas attorney Todd Tracy.
Tracy is a nationally-recognized car expert who admits his team scoured the car for 18 months before finally realizing why the airbag never deployed.
“We were focusing on the steering assembly here one day and it literally, I think there might have been an angel that day, because the steering hub fell out and what we saw next was absolutely shocking,” said Tracy.
From the front the hub appeared intact, complete with the car logo, even an airbag stamp, but Tracy describes what they found inside.
“Silicon putty and there was a shop rag in there and it was never going to fire because there is no igniter, no squib, no airbag in place…”
Side by side with a real airbag, one can see the differences.
On the right, the fake airbag with vinyl covering, the horns missing and the location of the stamp is off center.
From the side, there is sloppy craftsmanship, frayed edges and a shoddy glue job.
And from the back, the life-saving contrast is obvious.
“It’s no different than murder,” said Tracy. Pointing to the real airbag and then the fake, he said, “This saves your life. This kills you. And this did kill someone.”
So how did the shop rag, black putty and fake part get there?
The I-Team traced the used car’s history.
Photos show the original owner crashed it also. Insurance documents note the airbag deployed in that first accident.
The car then went to Insurance Auto Auctions in Wilmer, Texas.
The title Loughran got shows from here -it sold to Albayati Motors of Dallas. And from there, other handwritten documents show it was sold to Extreme Auto Care in Carrolton where a man said he was the new owner. “It’s a different company and that has nothing do with me,” he told the I-Team.
WATCH BEHIND THE LENS
CBS 11 then tried finding the owner of Extreme Auto Care at his home but no one answered the door. We later tracked down his attorney who says he and Extreme Auto Care have no comment.
The car the ended up at another used car dealership in Farmers Branch, Texas which is where the Loughran’s bought it.
With CBS 11 cameras rolling, the I-Team visited Complete Auto Care where the owner, Jimmy Sanders, agreed to talk.
He said the airbag light was on when he bought the car from Extreme Auto Care so he took it to Kia of Carrollton where mechanics noted the module needed replacing.
Sanders said he couldn’t afford to buy the airbag part at the dealership so he declined the work. Instead, he said he ordered a module through his father’s body shop for much less.
The I-team tracked down Sanders’ father at his shop. He told CBS 11 he knew nothing about the transaction or the lawsuit. “I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
Sanders said that’s because his father didn’t install the airbag sensor. Sanders said he went to another mechanic at another shop who installed the sensor, so when he got the car back, the warning light was off. Sanders said the car had already passed state inspection, so he sold the car to the Loughran.
“…Shortly after that I understand the girl hit a tree and passed away.” He said he didn’t know the car did not have airbags until we sat down to discuss the car with him and showed him the pictures. “This is the first I’ve known that it didn’t have airbags in it. I would never sell a car without airbags.” He told us, “I have nothing to hide.”
The Loughrans said if that car had had airbags, they would still have their daughter.
Tracy worries there are other vehicles which also have counterfeit airbags. “I guarantee you right now there are cars driving around Dallas- Fort Worth that will not fire.”
“Yes, yes! There could be other Sarahs out there right now. All that is keeping them alive is not having an accident.”
The I-Team has learned counterfeiting airbags are fairly common because replacing them is costly. It can cost up to $1,500.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration put out a warning to drivers years ago about the black market on airbags. In the video, a fake airbag deploys onto a crash dummy as metal shrapnel explodes into the car onto what would be the driver.
A few years ago, two brothers in Houston were convicted for buying and selling fake airbags. And late last year a man in Portland was convicted for the same crime.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE DRIVING A USED CAR:
–Do not take the steering hub off or the airbag apart.
–Do your homework. Research the history of the car to find out if it has been in an accident and if the airbag has ever deployed.
–Get a diagnostic test on the car. Experts say it is an “EKG” on your car.
–Take the car to an actual dealer and have mechanics do a side by side comparison to a real airbag.