After losing their parents three years ago in a horrific car crash in Somervell County, the four children of Mark and Darla Burns are still rebuilding their lives.
Kenya, Cami and Brealyn Burns were passengers in a Kia Sedona minivan that was hit head-on when the driver of a Pontiac Bonneville crossed the center line on U.S. 67 near Glen Rose. Their older sister, Elaina Brown, was working and not with her family when the accident occurred.
Mark and Darla Burns, of Bedford, were pronounced dead at the scene and the children’s 90-year-old grandmother Wanda Burns also died in the crash. They had been on their way to a family reunion in Hamilton.
“I’ve lost so much. I have three young sisters who witnessed the accident, and they have emotional damage,” Elaina Brown said. The other sisters declined to be interviewed, citing emotional trauma.
“When I realized that the airbags didn’t deploy, I wondered if they [had], would my parents still be here?”
Now, the Burns children are preparing for a February trial in Tarrant County district court after filing a lawsuit two years ago against Moritz Kia and its dealership for pre-owned vehicles, Discount Motors in Arlington, accusing the dealerships of disconnecting the fuse to the airbag system, removing the cable from the deployment sensor and fraudulently replacing the front seat sensor. Dallas attorney Todd Tracy is representing Brown.
In a joint written statement, Marshall Searcy and Bill Kirkman, attorneys for Moritz Kia and Discount Motors respectively, said the dealerships were not at fault for causing the accident or causing the resulting injuries and deaths.
“The vehicle which was involved in the accident was from every indication known to us as safe,” the statement says. “There is no evidence that would substantiate a claim that the car was somehow tampered with to mask an airbag defect. There is also no evidence that anyone involved with Moritz Kia of Fort Worth or Discount Motors removed any fuse from the automobile. The injuries and deaths were caused by a driver who crossed the yellow line on the highway and collided head-on into the decedents’ vehicle at a high rate of speed.”
‘Hope this was merely an oversight’
When asked how he would prove that the dealerships tampered with the airbag system in the Kia Sedona, Tracy said that Moritz Kia was following “troubleshooting protocols” when inspecting the vehicle because of complaints from a previous owner about the airbag warning light staying on.
“We believe they were following their protocols and ultimately did not put in the fuse or reconnect the airbag sensors,” Tracy said. “In my heart of hearts, I cannot fathom a company doing something so egregious. I have to hope this was merely an oversight, an act of carelessness.”
The suit also alleges that Discount Motors sold the Kia Sedona without disclosing its history of problems with the airbags. Mark and Darla Burns purchased the van from Discount Motors three weeks before the accident.
The suit alleges that the Burnses were killed when the airbags did not deploy and that the accident was “survivable.”
The children are seeking over $1 million in damages from Moritz Kia and Discount Moters for pain and suffering and mental anguish
Brown said that before the wreck on July 19, 2013, her three younger sisters were happy, well-adjusted teenage girls. Brown said her parents adopted the three girls, and that she was almost like a second parent to her sisters.
But everything changed after the crash.
Kenya Burns, who was 16 at the time, pulled her sisters out of the wrecked mini van and saw that her father was still alive. She tried to help but realized she couldn’t do anything.
Brown said she talks to her sister frequently,and sometimes, she will call late at night because she had a nightmare.
‘Deepest sympathy for the victims’
As the trial date draws near, Brown said it is an emotional time for her family. She has a child due in November and must also prepare to relive her family’s tragedy during the trial.
“I have to be their (her parents’) voice and my sisters’ voice. That’s what keeps me going,” Brown said.
“People take safety features for granted. This will bring attention and awareness to other families. They will question and consider what has happened here so that it (tampering with airbags) can be prevented.”
The attorneys for Moritz Kia and Discount Motors said in their statement that they would rather not have commented but that Tracy, in drawing media attention to the case, left them no choice.
“As trial counsel, we consider it inappropriate to comment upon matters that are the subject of pending court proceedings; to do so undermines the fairness and justice of those proceedings,” they said in the statement. “Normally we abstain from any such comment. However, in this case, numerous statements have already been made to the press, apparently by counsel for the plaintiffs, who has a direct and substantial financial interest in the outcome of this case. These statements are inaccurate and we believe designed to be purposefully prejudicial to our clients.
“We have the deepest sympathy for the victims of this tragic accident and their survivors,” they added. “However, we intend to demonstrate at trial that neither Moritz Kia of Fort Worth nor Discount Motors were at fault in causing either the accident or the resulting injuries and deaths.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.