Montgomery, Ala – Bridgestone-Firestone and Ford Motor are set to go on trial this week in a lawsuit blaming them for the wreck that killed civil rights leader Earl Shinhoster.

Shinhoster, a former NAACP acting executive director in Atlanta, and Samimah Aziz were passengers in a Ford Explorer that crashed June 11, 2000, on Interstate 85. Aziz was seriously injured.

The Ford Explorer was part of a security motorcade – traveling 80 mpg in a 70 mph zone –carrying Shinhoster to Montgomery. Traveling in another vehicle was first lady of Nigeria, Jewel Howard-Taylor.

Shinhoster’s widow, Ruby Shinhoster, and by Aziz, a goddaughter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, filed the lawsuit. It says the accident occurred when the tire on the Explorer blew out and “disintegrated” and that Bridgestone-Firestone knew the tire was defective. The lawsuit also says that Ford was at fault because of defects that the plaintiffs say caused the vehicle to roll.

Attorneys are expected to begin jury selection Monday morning in circuit court in Macon County.

The lawsuit is one of many that have been filed in accidents involving alleged failure of Firestone tires and Ford Explorer rollovers. But experts say it is the first time that Bridgestone-Firestone and Ford will be defendants in a trial involving the same accident.

Sean Kane, a researcher with Strategic Safety of Arlington, Va., said the trial is also significant because the tire involved in the accident was not one recalled by Bridgestone-Firestone.

“It was similar in construction to the recalled tires,” Kane said. He said another issue in the trial will be the age of the tire, which was seven years old but had barely been used.

One of the attorneys for Bridgestone-Firestone during the trial will be reknowned Alabama civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who once represented Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.

Gray could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman for Bridgestone-Firestone, Dan MacDonald, said Gray was hired “because he’s an excellent attorney. We always want to hire the best legal talent.”

In a statement, MacDonald called the accident a “tragedy,” but said “there is no indication that this tire was defective in any way.”

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