Mattie Ulrich, whose two daughters and a niece died in a fiery 1978 crash involving their Pinto, testified today in the reckless homicide trial of Ford Motor Co. that she did not receive a letter recalling her 1973 car until February 1979, six months after the accident.
The recall of 1.5 million Pintos and Mercury Bobcats for fuel-tank safety modifications were announced two months before the accident, in which the Ulrich family Pinto was struck from behind by a van traveling 50 miles per hour.
Ulrich told prosecutor Michael Cosentino that she would have "gotten rid of" the car had she received the warning letter before the accident, and that she never would have let the girls drive in the auto.
Ford's chief counsel, James Neal, objected that this line of questioning was speculative, but Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Harold Staffeidt overruled him.
Ford is charged with three counts of reckless homicide and faces a $30,000 fine if convicted in the case -- the first time a corporation has faced criminal charges in a product liability case.
Ulrich was calm as she related how the teen-agers left her home at about 5:55 that evening to attend volleyball practice at a Goshen, Ind., church, and never returned.
Earlier, Indiana State Police Trooper Neil B. Graves testified about his investigation of the crash, telling of his discovery of a "gaping hole" in the Pinto's fuel tank where it presumably had split on impact.
Consentino entered as the state's first exhibit the gas tank from the Pinto. Graves identified it and placed his hand through the hole for the benefit of the jury.
He described scorch marks on the highway from the point of impact to where the Pinto came to rest, ane the burn damage to both vehicles. He told of finding the incinerated body of Lyn Marie Ulrich, 16, of Osceola, Ind., in the back seat, and the burned body of her cousin, Donna May Ulrich, 18, of Roanoke, Ill., in the front passenger seat.
The driver of the car, Judy Ann Ulrich, 18, Lyn's sister, died in the hospital a few hours later.
Graves, who headed the crash investigation, said he found two half-empty bottles of beer and about five grams of marijuana in the van. Under cross-examination by Neal, Graves said tests showed that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Neal questioned modifications on the 1972 Chevy van, including a new engine and a 2-by-10 inch homemade wood bumper on the front of the van. Graves told Neal that the van weighed "a little over 4,000 pounds."
In his opening statement Tuesday, Neal said he would show that "with the speed involved in this accident and the size of the van, other subcompact cars would have suffered the same consequences."
Neal also quizzed the tropper about the location of the Pinto's gas cap after the impact. Photographs entered as exihibits showed the cap near the point of impact along the right curb, although the gas-tank opening is on the left side of the car. Neal did not establish the significance of his inquiry, and told reporters later that the matter would be cleared up later.