On evening of July 5, 2006, Tongan Prince Uluvala Tu’ipelehake and Princess Kaimana Tu’ipelehake were rear-seat passengers in a 1998 Ford Explorer SUV on U.S. 101, Menlo Park, California. Both wore seatbelts. The SUV was owned by John Hiss and driven by Vinisia Hefa.

A 1998 Ford Mustang was being driven by 18 year-old Edith Delgado at approximately 10 miles per hour faster than the Ford Explorer when it made a lane change to the right and into the path of the Explorer, catching the left front bumper of the Explorer with the leading edge of the Mustang’s passenger’s door.

The damage to the Mustang shows the leading edge of the passenger door was bent, as if a can opener had been applied. Along the side of the Mustang, black circular marks from the Explorer’s tires are evident. Click to see photo.

The left front corner of the Explorer’s bumper shows it was twisted outward and the left front wheel shows white paint transfer marks.

After the vehicles separated, the Mustang recovered from the contact and pulled off the freeway.

The Explorer was subjected to a rapid turn to the left, causing it to roll, killing the Prince, Princess and their driver.  Three wrongful deaths in an instant in the bigger, heavier Explorer.   The occupants of the smaller and lighter Mustang escaped with no injuries.

On June 4, 2007, the surviving sons of Prince Tu‘ipelehake, through their attorney Richard Alexander, filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court for the wrongful death of their father.

The complaint names as defendants Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of the Explorer, John Hiss owner of the Explorer, Vinisia Hefa, driver of the Explorer and Edith Delgado the driver of the Mustang.

Civil Action Number # 107CV087173 alleges:

“The inherent instability … and the total lack of crashworthiness of the roof in a rollover are the principal factors that caused the death of Uluvalu Tu‘ipelehake.” The complaint alleges that the 1998 Ford Explorer:

is inherently unstable

has a high center of gravity

has a narrow track width

demonstrates a dangerous tendency to trip, rollover or flip in turning maneuvers at freeway speeds on level highways

presents an extraordinary high risk of rollovers when compared to passenger vehicles

the Explorer roof readily collapses and is not designed or intended to protect passengers in a rollover.

See photos below of three Explorers that rolled showing the failure of the roof pillars.

A complete copy of the filed complaint can be found here. The following quotations are all allegations contained in the complaint.

“The speed differential between the Ford Mustang and the Ford Explorer at the time of impact was on the general order of approximately 10 miles per hour …”

Although the teenage driver of the 1998 Mustang “contributed to the crash events with an improper lane change, she did not kill the occupants of the 1998 Ford Explorer …”

Had the Prince “been a passenger in a Honda, a Toyota, or any other standard passenger car, even a Ford Mustang, it would not have rolled and plaintiffs’ father and the two additional occupants of the Explorer would not have died.”

Against the owner of the Explorer, the complaint alleges he was negligent in aggravating the rollover tendency of the Explorer by replacing 15-inch wheels with 16-inch rims and installing oversized tires, which raised the center of gravity.

A further allegation of negligence against the owner and driver of the Explorer states that the right front tire was under-inflated and only had 20 pounds pressure in the critical right front tire. When the driver of the Explorer attempted to turn the wheel to the left after the contact with the Mustang, the full weight of the vehicle was shifted to the right front tire. The failure to have at least 32 pounds pressure in this tire created a “soft’ sidewall,” and “caused the right front wheel to trip when a left turning movement loaded the right front tire in an emergency freeway turning maneuver.”

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Richard Alexander