Family of CHP officer killed in Santee crash sues Toyota

Trials and ArbitrationCrime, Law and JusticeVehiclesFamilyProduct RecallsAutomotive Equipment

Relatives of a family killed in a high-speed crash that galvanized attention around safety flaws of Toyotas and led to the recalls of millions of cars have sued the world's largest automaker for product liability and negligence, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit seeking unspecified damages was filed in San Diego County Superior Court and names Toyota Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., other Toyota U.S. entities and Bob Baker Lexus. The El Cajon-based car dealership loaned California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor a 2009 Lexus ES350 sedan the morning of Aug. 28, after Saylor took his car in for service.

Saylor, 45, his wife, Cleofe, 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and Cleofe's brother Chris Lastrella, 39, were traveling on a state Route 125 near Santee on Aug. 28 when their vehicle reached speeds of more than 120 mph, hit a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment where the freeway ends at Mission Gorge Road. The Lexus rolled several times and burst into flames.

Investigators found that a wrong-sized floor mat that trapped the accelerator was the cause of the crash.

A haunting 911 call captured Lastrella telling the others to pray before the car launched off the embankment.

According to the lawsuit, the Lexus ES350 "began to accelerate on its own." Saylor attempted to apply the brakes and do everything possible to stop the car, but he was unable to do so, the lawsuit said.

Following that crash, Toyota recalled millions of cars to replace floor mats that it said could cause the accelerator to jam. The carmaker later recalled millions more vehicles to replace gas pedals that it said could stick.

Last week, company president Akio Toyoda apologized to Congress, millions of Toyota owners and to the Saylor family specifically during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D.C.

Fe Lastrella, the mother of Chris Lastrella and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, testified at that hearing.

"I'm here to speak for my four children and for the safety of the consumers through the world," she told the committee. "You don't want another family to suffer like we are suffering."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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