Chris Weeks/WireImage for Silver Spoon
A Porsche Carrera GT, like the one involved in the crash that claimed the life of “Fast & Furious” actor Paul Walker.
“Fast & Furious” star Paul Walker is not the first high-profile passenger to die in a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT piloted by an experienced driver, if in fact autopsies prove that Walker was not behind the wheel.
Internet pioneer Corey Rudl died in the passenger seat of the same model year vehicle in 2005, and Porsche eventually paid six figures toward a settlement won by Rudl’s widow.
Porsche engineers did not equip the vehicle with a computerized safety feature known as electronic stability control, and Rudl’s passenger airbag never deployed, lawyer Craig McClellan told the Daily News Tuesday.
Electronic safety control is a computerized technology that improves a vehicle’s stability by detecting a loss of traction or control and immediately correcting it; it is now required in all new cars in the U.S.
McClellan, who represented Rudl’s widow, said Porsche agreed to pay about 9% of the $ 4.5 million settlement.
“They stopped selling this car in the U.S. because it wasn’t able to meet U.S. safety standards,” the lawyer said. “It certainly would have been good to recall and retrofit the cars (with stability control), but they had so few sold in the U.S., they probably just decided they wouldn’t bother with it.”
McClellan said Porsche engineers who were deposed in Germany for the Rudl case said they intentionally excluded the company’s Porsche Stability Management (PSM) technology when they designed the 2005 Carrera GT.
“One engineer said customers wouldn’t want it, another said the car had too much vibration for it to work well,” McClellan said.
The lawyer said it’s too soon to tell whether the PSM system could have saved Walker and his racing buddy Roger Rodas on Saturday, but it’s something investigators will have to consider.
He said the car has a “black box” that should be able to reveal the speed the car was traveling prior to the crash, whether the driver was accelerating or trying to apply the brakes and whether the car’s airbags worked properly.
Walker, in Madrid, Spain, in 2003, poses in a car for photographers to promote “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
“It’s a black box located in the tunnel by the transmission, so there shouldn’t be a problem with it surviving the collision,” McClellan said. “It has a proprietary encryption, so I imagine investigators will have to get some special help and equipment to be able to download and interpret the results. It might take some time.”
He said if law enforcement doesn’t have the resources for such a sophisticated accident reconstruction, it will be up to the victims’ families to pursue one, possibly through a civil lawsuit.
“Right now the families are going through the grieving process, but at some point they will want to know exactly why this happened,” McClellan said. “Eventually they will want the answers to help bring closure.”
In the case of Corey Rudl, the web guru hopped into a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT driven by an acquaintance at the California Speedway in Fontana to see if he might be interested in buying one.
The driver, Benjamin Keaton, also died in the crash. His estate paid into the Rudl settlement, too, along with California Speedway, the race organizers and another driver involved in the crash.
Autopsies, performed Tuesday, are necessary to confirm whether Rodas was behind the wheel in Saturday’s crash in Santa Clarita, Calif. Walker’s representative told The News the actor was the passenger, and a source close to Walker and Rodas’ racing team also said Walker was riding shotgun. The results of the autopsies had not been received as of early Tuesday night.
The source close to the racing team told The News Monday that Rodas bought his super-powerful Carrera GT over the summer for around $ 500,000 and hadn’t taken it onto a track prior to the deadly crash.
It wasn’t clear how much Rodas knew about the car’s history before Saturday, including whether he was aware of a famous incident involving late-night television host Jay Leno.
Leno, an avid car enthusiast, lost control of a stock Porsche Carrera GT after clocking 182 mph and spun around five times at Talladega Superspeedway in 2005.
Leno laughed off the incident at the time, telling reporters: “NBC thinks I’m at the go-kart track in Malibu!”