Several news sources are reporting that an Arkansas doctor in the town of West Memphis who is the Chairman of the Arkansas Medical Board has been life-flighted to a hospital in critical condition after his Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUV exploded.
>>UPDATE #3 2/5/2009 8:00 am PST: Dr. Trent Pierce has lost his left eye in the blast and is undergoing multiple surgeries to save his right eye as well as remove shrapnel from his neck and abdomen. Investigators are still not sure if the bomb was placed on or near Dr. Pierce’s car. Apparently, the doctor was outside his car when the blast occurred.
Initially a local bomb squad was called in to investigate, but was sent away after no bomb was found. At the time, speculation revolved around a malfunction with the car itself. Since that time, the FBI and ATF have found evidence of explosives. There are no current leads in the case and no one can come up with a reason why a doctor in a smallish town may have been the target of an attack like this.
Apparently, the explosion was felt a mile away from the blast, which occurred in the driveway of Dr. Trent Pierce‘s home. Footage from the scene shows the hood blown off the front of the Lexus. Besides the doctor, another person was injured in the blast as well.
As has been pointed out here before, while more and more of these alternative vehicles come on the scene, emergency responders have a new beast to deal with. High voltage mixed with explosive liquids certainly provides the setting for potentially horrifying situations. While the investigators take time to sort all this out, I’m left wondering if the person who placed the bomb tried to use the high voltage in the car to increase the power of the explosion or hoped that the explosion would look like a malfunctioning hybrid?
[Editor’s note: the following paragraphs were written on the morning of 2/4/2009, when it seemed that a bomb had been ruled out as a cause. They are being left here for historical reference and completeness]
In the meantime, you can expect that the internet will be abuzz with rampant speculation. For sure, some will take the opportunity to say “See, told you so, you environmentalists are pushing new technology through before it is safe enough for public consumption,” and some will say “It’s only one car among hundreds of thousands of hybrids that have worked just fine. That’s a pretty good track record.”
All I can say is I’m not going to make any judgment until all facts are in. However, if this does turn out to be a problem related to the hybrid system itself, not only will Toyota/Lexus’ reputation take a major beating, you can bet that shockwaves will ripple through the entire conventional hybrid and plug-in hybrid industry.
At a time when the likes of GM are hanging their future on the plug-in hybrid, this would be a major development indeed.
THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY. UPDATES AS THEY BECOME AVAILABLE…
Sources: as listed in the post
Image Credit: Lexus