DETROIT (WWJ) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there were 58 deaths involving Jeep Libertys from the 2002 through 2007 models years where the vehicle caught fire in a rear-impact crash.

Chrysler has issued a recall — but denies a defect. The issue with the Jeeps in question was fuel tank leaks and fires after a rear-end collision, with the gas tank being located behind the rear axle.

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The circumstances are similar to an accident that killed Kayla White — who was driving a 2003 Liberty — on Tuesday. White, who was pregnant, died trapped inside her burning SUV during the afternoon commute along northbound M-10, just north of the Telegraph Road exit.

Kayla White (Facebook Photo)

Kayla White (Facebook Photo)

Clarence Ditlow with the watchdog group Center for Auto Safety explained the issue.

“They probably are safe in other types of crashes, but if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time — as this woman was — you’re very likely to burn to death,” Ditlow said. “The fuel tank is located behind the rear axle just like the old Ford Pinto and it even extends below the bumper. It’s vulnerable to failure in a rear impact.”

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As part of that recall, the automaker will put a trailer hitch on the SUV — if it doesn’t already have one — to help mitigate worry.

“The important thing is that the impact doesn’t kill the occupant of the Jeep, it’s the ensuing fire that does, ” Ditlow said. “So you survive the trauma of the crash, but then you burn to death.”

With regard to the recall situation, Chrysler Group’s issued a statement defending the safety of its vehicles.

“Chrysler Group expresses its most profound sympathy to those affected by this tragedy. We are working with law enforcement to gather the relevant facts.”

“These vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group. Nonetheless, Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles. Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.”

There are over one million of the recalled Jeep Libertys still on the road.

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