As the federal government prepares to close its investigation into a light truck tire made by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the 1996 death of a Texas test driver has taken on new significance. Consumer advocates say they are troubled by Goodyear's failure to report to NHTSA the accident, which involved a prototype of a Load Range E tire, according to a report yesterday in The Dallas Morning News. Rebecca Epstein, a staff attorney with Washington-based Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, told the Morning News she finds it "jaw-dropping" that Goodyear did not report the death of Lucio Ibarra Jasso near Cotulla, TX, on Aug. 21, 1996. "It gives us grounds for concern that Goodyear is not being forthright," Epstein said. According to the police report, Jasso, an employee of the Long and Associates testing firm, was driving a pickup on Interstate 35 when the right rear tire blew out. The truck fishtailed and rolled, according to the report. Jasso, who was wearing a seat belt, was crushed by the roof. The traffic safety administration has been investigating alleged tread-separation problems with the Load Range E tire for 17 months. Goodyear announced last month that it would replace about 200,000 tires on 15-passenger vans and ambulances because those vehicles tend to roll over after blowouts. Goodyear spokesman Chris Aked told the Morning News that the company does not intend to replace millions of tires on SUVs and light trucks because there is no evidence of excessive risk. Aked said Goodyear had no obligation to report the accident to federal investigators because it involved prototype Load Range E tires that never went into production. "This was not a tire that was scheduled to go out on the market," he said. "It was an experimental tire."