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Woman Died Trapped in Burning SUV After Vehicle Malfunction
1/17/23

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Photo showing the aftermath of the fire that engulfed Mary Frahm's 2009 Dodge Journey on Highway AB in Wisconsin on December 9. The woman had called her fiancé to say she was unable to get out of the blazing vehicle.DANE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

A73-year-old woman died in Wisconsin on December 9 after her 2009 Dodge Journey caught fire, shortly after telling her fiancé on her cellphone that she couldn't unlock the doors or open the windows.

Mary L. Frahm, the only person in the car, was killed in the incident that took place on County Highway AB, in the town of Dunn.
Photo showing the aftermath of the fire that engulfed Mary Frahm's 2009 Dodge Journey on Highway AB in Wisconsin on December 9. The woman had called her fiancé to say she was unable to get out of the blazing vehicle.DANE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

According to a Dane County sheriff's report, Frahm had been driving home, after taking her son to work, when some of the electrical components of her car began to malfunction. The vehicle started to lose power, while the speedometer was "going crazy" and the windshield wipers began operating without her instruction.

Concerned, Frahm pulled over and called her fiancé, telling him her car was "acting up" again, and that she was unable to unlock the doors or wind down the windows.



After the fiancé left to help, he received another call from Frahm, who said smoke had started coming out of the dashboard and she could smell burning. He advised her to call 911, but when first responders arrived, they found the vehicle engulfed by flames, with Frahm still inside. She was pronounced dead at the scene.


Dane County Sheriff's Detective William Hendrickson said Frahm's phone calls, witness statements and the car's condition indicated the death was caused by "some sort of issue with the vehicle, and not the involvement of a third party."

Hendrickson added that Frahm's Dodge Journey contained a Totally Integrated Power Module, or TIPM, which is used to control the electrical systems, but which "had a documented history of possibly shorting out or causing some sort of an electrical or mechanical abnormality with the vehicles."


In 2014, Chrysler, which owned Dodge, was the target of a class-action lawsuit claiming customers had been misled about TIPM defects. This was settled, with Chrysler issuing a recall for some Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles

Also, in 2014, the Center for Auto Safety, a pressure group representing car drivers, wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urging them to recall Chrysler SUVs and vans from 2007 to 2014, because of concerns about the TIPM.

The group wrote: "These owners remain at the mercy of a defect which many have likened to the vehicle being possessed and uncontrollable."
However, the NHTSA concluded the petition was "not warranted," and said specific TIPM issues had "been addressed by safety recalls."
Speaking to The Times of Northwest Indiana, a spokesperson for Stellantis, formed by the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group, said: "We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Ms Frahm. We were unaware of this tragic event. Nor are we aware of any similar incidents."

Newsweek has contacted Stellantis asking for more details about the incident.


Eric Haag, attorney for the Frahm family, said they would wait to hear more from investigators before deciding whether to launch legal action.
He said: "Obviously, cars aren't supposed to catch on fire, and they're not supposed to exhibit the kinds of whacko behavior that's described in the report."

The death notice for Frahm, published in The Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle, a local newspaper, described her as "a beautiful, lovely, thoughtful and funny, fiancée, mother, sister, aunt and friend who will be dearly missed."
 
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