Tires, Tragedy And Emma's Angel

000906_Pitts_victims CBS

Thirty-six-year-old Emma Fernandez calls her three-year-old daughter Carolina her "angel"—a child she believes God spared when an accident, perhaps caused by a tire, killed the rest of her family on the Florida Turnpike.

CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports Emma, her husband Jose, and their daughter were headed home from Disney World—from a weekend getaway for the busy attorney and his wife, nine months pregnant with their second child.

According to the police report, the left rear tire on the family's Ford Explorer "separated." The vehicle then flipped over five times.

"When I woke up, all I could hear was my daughter screaming for me," Emma recalls.

Jose Fernandez was killed instantly.

"I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to go to his funeral," said Emma.

Hospitalized and heavily sedated with internal injuries, Emma delivered her second daughter by C-section. Baby Emma Teresa, named after her mother and grandmother, died three days later.

"I don't remember my daughter," Emma says now. "Not at all. There are not enough pictures of her. I wish I had a picture so I could see her face. Everybody says she was beautiful."

Emma Fernandez has filed a wrongful death suit against Firestone and the Ford Motor Company. The tire that shredded was fairly new. The family allegedly bought it six months before the accident, after the vehicle's original Firestone tire also separated.

"I feel hurt and angry," she said. "Angry that we didn't know that this could have been prevented."

Wednesday, the day Congress heard testimony from Ford and Firestone officials on flaws affecting millions of tires, Carolina Fernandez started school. Her father wasn't there; it was the first of many things Emma and Carolina will share alone.

But they aren't alone in suffering the tragic consequences of accidents linked to the tires.

Another accident victim who is suing Ford and Firestone is 35-year old Randy Smithwick, who faces a future of painful, twice-a-day physical therapy sessions, nightsweats and nightmares of the accident that shattered his hip and nearly killed his entire family.

"We were driving along and all I remember is the tire falling apart, losing control," recalled Smithwick. "The next thing I know somebody's on top of me, saying, 'You're going to be all right.'"

The SUV Smithwick was driving flipped over four times, an accident he blames on Firestone tires.

"I think they're defective. I know they're defective—look at me," he said.

While many of the survivors of accidents blamed on the tires will likely recover from their physical injuries, Donna Bailey never will.

At 42, with a daughter headed to college and a passion for physical fitness and the outdoors, Bailey had a good life.

Now she's paralyzed from the neck down, unable to breathe on her own or feed herself.

"It's been tough. I am confined," sad Bailey. "It's like being in jail."
Last March, the SUV Bailey was riding flipped over near San Antonio. As with the Smithwick's SUV, a rear tire had ripped to shreds.

With hospital bills already exceeding $500,000, Bailey will need 24-hour care for the rest of her life.

"I still dream I'm running at night…" she said. "That's hard. And I miss that."


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