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Police, Automaker At Odds Over ‘Little Black Box’ Volkswagen Wants To Run Tests In Crash That Killed Boise Child

Wed., Feb. 19, 1997

An investigation of the air-bag accident that killed a 1-year-old Boise girl has stalled over access to a “little black box” that may provide important clues.

Volkswagen wants Boise police to travel to Germany so engineers there can conduct tests on the device that triggers the air bags in Volkswagen Jettas. A computer chip in the box stores information that could help investigators determine how Alexandra Greer died last November as she rode in her mother’s 1996 Jetta.

Investigators say they can conduct the tests locally.

The baby’s mother, Rebecca Blackman, 21, said her daughter was belted in, riding in a forward-facing car seat, when the accident occurred. Blackman rear-ended another car as she was pulling into a store parking lot, triggering the air bag.

Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg disagrees with the mother’s account, saying the baby was not belted in. Sonnenberg said the child was decapitated when she flew forward into the air bag.

Three months after the accident, police continue to investigate.

“My understanding is that Volkswagen is not cooperating,” Sonnenberg said. “The problem is over the little black box that triggers the air bags. It is an important piece of evidence that needs to be tested.”

Investigators hope to determine what caused the bags to deploy in what otherwise was a fender bender.

“Right now, it’s Volkswagen’s preference for us to come to Germany to test it,” Boise Police Lt. Jim Tibbs said. “Our argument is that we have the expertise to test it here.”

Volkswagen officials said they have been cooperative and have offered to pay for Boise investigators to travel to Germany to oversee the testing, said Tony Fouladpour, spokesman for Volkswagen of American in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“In order to extract that data it needs to be sent to the supplier,” Fouladpour said. “That is simply how it is done. There is no other way it can be done.”

The supplier is Siemens AG, based in Munich, Germany. It sells Volkswagen the control units used in the air-bag systems.

Instead of impact sensors used in most cars, the Siemens-Volkswagen system triggers the air bag to discharge when the car comes to an abrupt stop - such as a front-impact collision.

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