Questions Raised Over Tire Companies That Take Tread From Accident Sites

ByABC News
June 19, 2006, 3:31 PM

June 19, 2006 — -- Anyone who drives the nation's highways will see them -- pieces of tire tread sitting along side the road. Often just discarded and left there as trash after an accident, they could be important evidence in cases involving possible tire failure.

Cooper Tires, the nation's fourth largest tire manufacturer, hired an investigator who would go pick up that tread in accidents involving Cooper Tires.

That individual, Frank Ruggier, testified in a deposition in May 2005 in Phoenix that he would search the Internet every day, looking for reports of crashes involving tires throughout the United States.

"I look, usually, at the metro section of the newspaper," Ruggier testified. "Looking for key words, such as accident, fatal, death."

In a case involving an Arizona accident that left one woman dead, Ruggier testified that Cooper Tires paid him $75 an hour to go to accident sites. He would take pictures and collect evidence. If he found pieces of tread he took it -- and gave it to Cooper Tires. This was sometimes days or weeks after an accident, and after police had finished their on-scene investigation.

Ruggier would deliver any evidence he found to Cooper headquarters in Findlay, Ohio. Ruggier testified that local authorities in Arizona had directed him to the accident site -- but that he never told anyone he had removed the tread.

Ruggier was asked during the deposition: "At no time did you tell Arizona authorities that you had recovered anything that could conceivably be physical evidence at the scene, is that right, sir?"

"That is correct," answered Ruggier.

Tire companies routinely use investigators. Ruggier also did occasional work for Bridgestone-Firestone, Dunlop, Continental General. Dunlop and Bridgestone-Firestone told ABC News that Ruggier never delivered pieces of tread to them. The other companies only confirmed Ruggier had been employed by them from time to time.