10:08 PM EST, November 15, 2012
As we've seen all too often recently, too many parents are losing their children in car crashes. As the family tries to heal, they often look for a reason why the accident happened. Parents in Bedford thought their son fell asleep behind the wheel when he died in 2011. Then they got a letter in the mail that changed everything.
"I'm sure I told him I loved him, I'm sure I did, every time we get off the phone we'd say, 'I love you,'" says Brenda Padgett. "And... that was it."
A sheriff's deputy gave them the news. Aaron Padgett died on a chilly late October night a year ago. Driving from a friend's house on Route 221, just a few miles from home. The police report shows he lost control around a turn, drove through a culvert and smashed into a utility pole. He died instantly. Troopers theorized he fell asleep and pushed down the gas pedal.
"I looked at the sheriff and I said, 'don't you tell me my baby is dead,'" recalls Aaron's mother, Brenda. "And that's exactly what they said."
That was more than a year ago. Now a tree at the D-Day memorial in Bedford, where Aaron worked, is there in his honor. The pain was starting to recede. The healing was beginning. Then in August, a letter in the mail from Ford. It said the car Aaron was driving has been recalled. A problem with the accelerator pedal. It could be pressed down and stick. Is that how Aaron died?
"So now we don't know whether he fell asleep or whether the throttle stuck or what's going on.," says father, Brent Padgett.
What hurts most is if the crash was caused by the defect, should there have been a recall earlier? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Ford to find out if they should have issued a recall sooner and if a fix for the problem suggested in 2004 may have made things worse. A letter to dealers a year later said the car could continue to have elevated speeds while driving and may result in a crash without warning.
In an email to WDBJ7, a Ford spokesperson says, "The condition could result in elevated engine speeds when the accelerator pedal is released... I wouldn't be able to comment on an individual case, as it would be impossible for me to speculate about the circumstances surrounding the specific incident."
The investigating trooper with Virginia State Police says, "At this time I have no reason to believe that an accelerator defect had anything to do with this crash, however I also cannot rule it out completely... I explained to Padgett's family that the crash had traits that appear Aaron may have fallen asleep."
Still the void is there; a question for a family that may never be answered.
"Things happen for a reason and I think, 'Is God trying to tell us something?'" says Brenda. "It was very disturbing."
The Padgett's are still in the paperwork process with Ford and NHTSA to at least let them know about the crash and its timing with the recall. Investigations are underway but it will be nearly impossible to get a definitive cause. They say they have no plans at this time to take any legal action.
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