Sean Bowman’s family alleges that due to a serious, hidden flaw in Windstar vans that Ford took years to do anything about, the 28-year-old Massachusetts father was killed on his way to pick up his two young daughters.
The safety defect in the Windstar’s rear axle, which makes it vulnerable to snapping in half unexpectedly due to corrosion from road salt, has led to more than 800 reported incidents over 10 years, allegedly including Bowman’s fatal crash in October. But federal regulators didn’t investigate until this year, and Ford didn’t issue its voluntary recall until this August, recalling nearly 500,000 Windstars manufactured between 1998 and 2003 and in use in states where winter weather increases the likelihood of corrosion.
Before the recall, Ford had long maintained that there was little chance of an accident with a broken axle on the Windstar, and no need for an expensive recall. Then, this past June, federal safety officials conducted videotaped safety tests.
At 35 miles per hour, once the axle broke, only the side stability bars seemed to keep the van from tipping over, even with a professional driver behind the wheel.
A week after Bowman’s axle broke and he died in a crash, a Ford recall notice arrived at the Bowman home, warning that the rear axle in some Windstar vans “could potentially fracture . . . which could increase the risk of a crash.”