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Toyota Accident Details Released

Nov 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

We’ve been following a tragedy involving the deaths of a family potentially linked to faulty Lexus floor mats. Now, the LATimes writes that a federal report has found that there exists a potential defect in the design of the car’s gas pedal. The debacle also involves an earlier recall, a serious government-issued warning, and 11 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations. Last month, the Toyota Motor Corporation finally agreed to issue a massive recall—its largest ever—of nearly four million of its vehicles following the deaths of the off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor and members of his family.

The fatal crash involved Saylor (45); his wife, Cleofe (45); Mahala, their 13-year-old daughter; and Chris Lastrella (38), their brother-in-law; all four perished, said Detroit News previously. Details of the chilling accident that prompted the NHTSA to investigate the crash include the 2009 Lexus plummeting over an embankment and bursting into flames. The family was able to contact a 911 operator, saying they were unable to stop the ES 350; Lastrella advised the operator that the Lexus had no brakes. Most poignantly, the 911 tape, recently made public, included the family asking one another to pray at the recording’s end, just before their deaths, said Detroit News.

Federal highway safety inspectors recently released details of that deadly crash including a finding that, reports the LATimes, involves a gas pedal design in the Lexus ES 350 sedan that actually increases the likelihood of the pedal being “obstructed” by a car’s floor mat. Including the California fatalities, the NHTSA received 100 complaints involving 17 crashes and five deaths, said Detroit News previously. One-third involved the Lexus ES 350, the Free Press said earlier.

Toyota claimed the mat was not properly installed and could have trapped the gas pedal, reported the LATimes. The NHTSA report does not make any conclusion regarding he cause, but does reveal interesting new information, including that the brakes were “heavily damaged,” which appears to confirm Lastrella’s report on the 911 call in which he said, "There's no brakes," said the LATimes.

A Times review of NHTSA documents in an other Lexus investigation indicated that the agency “found that the Lexus ES braking system loses power-assist when the throttle is fully opened, increasing braking distance five-fold,” reported the LATimes. The recent report says, "Beyond the main pivot, the lever is not hinged and has no means for relieving forces caused by interferences," quoted the LATimes, citing investigators. The report also revealed that the gas pedal’s lower edge was "bonded" to the rubber floor mat that also reveals floor mat damage in the area surrounding the accelerator.

Saylor actually owned another Lexus that was being serviced at Bob Baker Lexus in El Cajon; he was given the car involved in the fatal crash as a loaner, said the LATimes. The carmaker claims that the auto dealer incorrectly installed the mats. The NHTSA reported that the Lexus had rubber all-weather floor mats for a Lexus RX400h—sport utility vehicle—which were not secured by retaining clips, said the LATimes.

NHTSA investigators said one of the two clips pulled out of the carpeting and was found under the mat; the other clip, while attached to the carpeting, was not hooked into the floor mat, said the LATimes. Also, the Lexus’ “brake surfaces” indicated wear through “heavy braking against the full force of the 272-horsepower Lexus engine,” reported the LATimes. "Rotors were discolored and heated, had very rough surfaces, had substantial deposits of brake pad material, and showed signs of bright orange oxidation on the cooling fins consistent with endured braking," the report said. NHTSA investigators wrote that directions on how to operate the car's keyless ignition—the Power button must be pressed for three full seconds to switch the engine off when in motion—were "not indicated on the dashboard," quoted the LATimes.

The recall affects the following Toyota models: 2007 to 2010 Camry, 2005 to 2010 Avalon, 2004 to 2009 Prius, 2005 to 2010 Tacoma, and 2007 to 2010 Tundra. It also affects the following Lexus models: 2007 to 2010 ES 350 and 2006 to 2010 IS 250 and IS 350.


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