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Federal safety regulators are looking into the death of a Texas man who may be the
latest victim of exploding automobile air bags made by Takata Corp of Japan.
The man, identified by authorities as Carlos Solis, 35 years old, died in a low-speed crash in the Houston area when an air bag inflated and sent shrapnel into his neck, US Senator Bill Nelson said on Thursday on the Senate floor.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was gathering information on the crash, which involved a Honda Accord and occurred on January 18. Honda said in a statement that the car was part of a 2011 national recall to fix the driver's airbag inflators, but records show the repairs had not been made. The company urged anyone with a vehicle recalled for airbag problems to take cars to dealers as soon as possible.
If authorities determine that the airbag inflator mechanism caused Solis' death, he would be the sixth person killed because of the problem, according to Nelson. Four victims were in the United States, while another was in Malaysia.
Inflators made by Takata can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and sending fragments into the passenger compartment. Nelson, who serves on a committee investigating the airbag deaths, said documents submitted by Takata show that 64 people have been injured by the faulty inflators in the US and its territories.
The government and Takata say prolonged exposure to high humidity can make the airbag inflator propellant burn too fast, causing it to blow apart the canisters.
Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office in Texas, confirmed that the crash took place at 9:45 p.m. in the Houston suburb of Spring. Solis was trying to turn left into an apartment complex parking lot when he hit another vehicle, according to the sheriff's office.
The airbag in Solis' Honda inflated, and a deputy who responded to the accident "observed he had a large open wound to his neck", Garza said.
A preliminary report by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences lists Solis' cause of death as "blunt force injuries of the neck". However, an exact determination of what caused the neck injuries is not immediately known. A final autopsy report has not been completed, said Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the institute.
Nelson said Solis was travelling with an 11 year-old cousin at the time of the wreck.
In a statement, Takata offered condolences to Solis' family and said the company is working with Honda "to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the vehicle's status".
A Honda spokesman said in an email that the Accord was equipped with a Takata driver's side airbag purchased on April 25, 2014. Honda mailed recall notification letters to the previous owner starting in 2011, but it had not yet sent a letter to the current owner, spokesman Chris Martin said.