Toyotas, deaths and sudden acceleration
At least 56 people have died in U.S. traffic accidents in which sudden unintended acceleration of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles has been alleged, according to complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, lawsuits and police and state highway patrol reports. Some of the victims’ names are unknown because NHTSA did not disclose them and they could not be confirmed through other sources. A Toyota spokesman declined to comment, saying the company does not discuss cases in which litigation has been, or could be, filed.
Here are the accounts of those fatalities, based on public records.
Date: March 2, 1992
Victim: Stanley Sirnik
Location: West Virginia
Model: 1992 Toyota 4Runner
Details: When his sport utility vehicle suddenly began to accelerate on a winding road -- his brakes ineffective and his cruise control locked -- Stanley Sirnik drove up an embankment to avoid an approaching cliff, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 1992 4Runner, which is not included in any recent Toyota recalls, flipped and Sirnik was killed instantly, according to the complaint, which was filed by Sirnik’s wife.
Sirnik had been traveling about 40 mph before the unintended acceleration, according to the complaint. Sirnik’s brother, a passenger in the vehicle, was badly injured, the complaint said.
Date: Sept. 4, 2003
Victim: Maria Cafua
Location: Wilmington, Mass.
Model: 2002 Toyota Camry
Details: Maria Cafua, 44, was in the middle of her early morning commute when the woman’s 2002 Camry accelerated across three lanes before being broadsided by another car in the fast lane, according to relatives and a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The accident on Interstate 93 on a rainy day in Wilmington, Mass., put Cafua in a coma. The Portuguese immigrant died eight months later.
Cafua is survived by her husband and three children, who were 23, 18 and 10 at the time of the accident.
The 2002 Camry is not included in Toyota’s recent recalls.. Still, David Cafua, now 29, said he believed the accident that killed his mother was caused by a defect in the car.
He said his mother had been taking the same route to her factory job for 12 years. The commute to nearby Watertown was too familiar, he said, and Cafua too cautious of a driver to be involved in such a freak accident.
For now, he said, the family has no intention of taking legal action against the automaker.
“We don’t have the money or resources to try to fight Toyota,” David Cafua said.
Date: Jan. 22, 2004
Victims: George Yago Jr. and Maureen Yago
Location: Las Vegas
Model: 2002 Toyota Camry
Details: George Yago was pulling his 2002 Camry slowly into a space on the fourth floor of the parking structure at the Golden Nugget hotel and casino when the car sped up, crashed into a concrete barrier and flew off of a ledge, according to a statement by the Las Vegas Metro Police.
The vehicle plunged four floors and landed on its roof in an alley, killing Yago, 83, and his wife, Maureen, 79. Police said they did not believe alcohol or drugs were a factor.
A relative of the couple filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, noting that the accelerator pedal may have been a factor. The 2002 Camry is not part of the recent recall.
Date: March 14, 2004
Victim: Ethyl Marlene Foster
Location: Phoenix, Ore.
Model: 2004 Toyota Camry
Details: As was routine, Ethyl Marlene Foster, 67, was picked up at her home by a friend for church.
The two noticed that the car’s gears stuck when the driver shifted from park into reverse. But it wasn’t until the shift to drive that the car accelerated uncontrollably, plowing into a mobile home nearby, according to a complaint filed by relatives with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Camry crashed into the double-wide mobile home with such impact that it moved the structure a foot, according to the complaint. The accident injured the driver, and killed Foster, who was crushed by the impact.
Foster’s relatives contacted Toyota after the 2004 accident but the company declined to speak with them, according to the complaint.
Clarence Foster, the victim’s husband of 48 years, said he was suicidal and “numb” for years after the crash. Thouh the 2004 Camry in not included in Toyota’s recent recalls, the family alleges that a defect in the car was to blame for the accident and is taking legal action against the carmaker, he said.
In addition to her husband, Foster is survived by four daughters, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Date: March 15, 2004
Victim: Blossom Malick
Location: Delray Beach, Fla.
Model: 2003 Toyota Camry
Details: The driver of a recently purchased 2003 Camry was backing out of a space in a parking lot off Atlantic Avenue in the coastal town of Delray Beach, Fla., when the vehicle suddenly accelerated, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The car struck and killed a pedestrian, Blossom Malick.
Reached by phone, the victim’s husband, who did not want his name published, confirmed Malick was killed in the accident, but he said he had no intention of taking legal action.
The car’s owner returned the vehicle to the dealer after the accident, refusing to drive it again, according to the complaint.
Police in Delray Beach had no record of the 2004 accident.
The 2003 Camry in not included in Toyota’s recent recalls.
Date: March 16, 2004
Victim: Juanita Grossman
Location: Evansville, Ind.
Model: 2003 Toyota Camry
Details: Juanita Grossman, 77, was found with both feet still jammed down on the brake pedal.
The Indiana woman had just pulled out of the local drive-through pharmacy where she picked up medication when her car took off across St. Joe’s Street in Evansville, Ind.
The 2003 Camry clipped another vehicle, crossed the street and grazed a fire station before slamming into a jewelry store, according to relatives and a complaint filed by Grossman’s family with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It was like a car on a sling shot. She was slung across the street into that building,” said her son, Bill.
Grossman was conscious after the wreck, maintaining alertness on and off for another six days before dying from her injuries.
Bill Grossman recalls his mother lying in her hospital bed, recounting how she braked furiously but couldn’t slow the surging car.
“She kept emphatically saying that the accelerator stuck on her,” he said.
Grossman is survived by two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
After the accident, the family considered taking legal action against Toyota but decided against it, worried the legal costs would overwhelm them.
“It would’ve been the giant versus the little guy,” Bill Grossman said.
The 2003 Camry in not included in Toyota’s recent recalls.
Date: May 14, 2004
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Honolulu.
Model: 2002 Toyota Camry
Details: A 68-year old woman was attempting to park her 2002 Camry when she crashed into a storefront. The car then went into reverse, striking other vehicles, before lurching forward again, hitting and killing a pedestrian.
Another woman whose vehicle was struck in the accident was injured so severely that she was left in a coma.
The incident is detailed in a complaint filed about two weeks after the accident with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by an attorney representing the injured woman. The complaint alleged that the accident could be connected to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The 2002 Camry is not included in Toyota’s recentrecalls.
The NHTSA complaint did not disclose the names of the pedestrian who was killed or the lawyer. Police in Honolulu said they were unable to search for an accident report dating back that far without having a victim’s name. An account of a similar accident that same day involving a Camry reported by the Honolulu Advertiser said an unnamed driver was involved in two accidents that day and reportedly suffered from a medical condition that may have caused her to lose control of her car.
Date: June 5, 2005
Victims: Ella Mae Braswell, Lon Braswell
Location: Athens, Ga.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: Ella Mae and Lon Braswell were traveling near Athens, Ga., when their Camry suddenly veered off the northbound lane of Georgia 24 and sped 200 yards along the shoulder before crashing headlong into a tree, according to the Georgia State Patrol.
The police report said the car left the roadway “for unknown reason” shortly after 4 p.m., and that no witnesses could be located. The driver, Ella Mae Braswell, was 85. Her husband Lon was 87. They had been married 68 years.
After raising their daughter and two sons in Virginia the Braswells retired to Florida in 1977, indulging their love of square dancing and travel. They visited all 50 states, capping the adventure with a Hawaiian vacation in 2003.
Their son Henry has been haunted by the accident for five years.
“I went up to Athens a week or so after it happened. I met with the investigating officer and at the time neither one of us could make any sense in the world of why she would have been going at that high rate of speed and making no effort to let off the gas,” Braswell said. “I’ve just been dumbfounded.”
The 2005 Camry has not been included in any of the recent recalls. Still, the rash of reports about runaway Toyotas has made Braswell suspect unintended acceleration as a possible cause for the accident.
“The investigating officer informed me that my mother had not slowed down and was traveling at a high rate of speed when leaving the road. There was not any indication that she tried slowing down,” Henry Braswell recounted in a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Braswell said he asked for an investigation at the time of the crash but was told that the vehicle was too badly damaged to determine whether a defect or malfunction might have led to the accident.
Date: June 10, 2006
Victims: Javis Adams, Javis Adams Jr., Devyn Bolton
Location: St. Paul, Minn.
Model: 1996 Toyota Camry
Details: Koua Fong Lee was driving his family home from church when his 1996 Camry accelerated as he exited a St. Paul freeway. He said he placed his foot on the brake pedal but the car raced at an estimated 90 mph and crashed into an Oldsmobile Ciera. Three people in the Oldsmobile were killed.
A Minnesota jury convicted Lee of vehicular homicide, concluding his foot had been on the gas and not the brake pedal. A judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.
In an interview this month at Lino Lakes state prison, Lee, 32, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he still believed the car malfunctioned. “When I stepped on the brake, nothing happened,” he said.
Lee’s attorney, Brent Schafer, said he had hired an expert to study Lee’s Camry, still at a city impound lot, to determine whether a malfunction caused the car to accelerate uncontrollably. Schafer said he planned to ask a judge to overturn Lee’s conviction.
The vehicle is not subject to recall, but other motorists have complained about sudden acceleration in that model, Schafer said.
“I do not believe a jury would convict this man in today’s atmosphere under these facts,” Schafer told The Times. “It seems to be blatantly obvious that it’s an accelerator issue.”
Date: Feb. 12, 2007
Victim: Phat X. Nguyen
Location: San Diego
Model: 1997 Toyota Avalon
Details: Phat X. Nguyen, who developed a vigorous exercise routine while serving in the South Vietnamese air force, was on his way to the gym when he lost control of his 1997 Avalon on Mission Village Drive in San Diego. He crashed into two utility poles and was critically injured.
He died on May 22, 2007, of complications related to the crash, his daughter, June, said in an interview. Nguyen was 72.
Nguyen immigrated to the United States in 1975 and worked as a bus mechanic before retiring.
After reading reports of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles, June Nguyen filed a complaint this month with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 1997 Avalon has not been recalled.
“The Avalon was a really strong car and would accelerate really quickly,” June Nguyen said. “There are a lot of things that are unresolved. We don’t really know what happened.”
Date: Feb. 25, 2007
Victim: Anne Ezal
Location: Pismo Beach, Calif.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: Bulent Ezal had just pulled into a bluff-top parking lot above Pismo Beach shortly after 1 p.m. on a blustery Sunday, heading to lunch at Pelican Point Restaurant. He and his wife of 46 years, Anne, had driven to the ocean from Bakersfield the previous day for a weekend of taking in the views over the Pacific, the Pismo Beach Police report recounted.
But as Ezal steered toward an open parking space, the 2006 Camry “went out of control and accelerated uncontrollably,” the retired engineer would recall later to police questioning him about the terrifying incident.
The car crashed through two barriers and plunged 75 feet into the surf, killing Anne and leaving the sedan in a crumpled mass amid the rocky shoals, according to the police report and bystanders’ pictures.
Rescue workers cut Bulent Ezal out from behind the steering wheel of the car and retrieved 71-year-old Anne Ezal’s lifeless body, lifting it up the steep slope with ropes and pulleys. The laborious effort was captured by bystanders’ photos, which are now part of a lawsuit filed by Bulent Ezal and his son against Toyota.
Pismo Beach Police attributed the accident to “driver error.” The 2005 Camry has not been recalled.
Date: April 9, 2007
Victim: Ray Ann Gloyna
Location: Callahan County, Texas
Model: 2001 Toyota Avalon
Details: Dennis Gloyna has agonized over his wife Ray Ann’s fatal accident, wondering how the normally cautious and attentive driver could have sped through a stop sign on a busy highway into the path of an 18-wheeler.
Only after dozens of instances of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles gained notoriety late last year did the Abilene businessman find a plausible, if still painful, explanation for the horrific crash that killed his 58-year-old wife, dragging her demolished car along the road for 900 feet.
“Why no skid marks?” the anguished widower wrote in a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November. “There is no other explanation in my mind as to how Ray Ann could have missed the stop sign. The car was out of control and it killed her.”
Ray Ann Gloyna had been driving alone, en route to Mexia, Texas, to visit her ailing mother when the accident occurred at 8:30 p.m. A special unit of the Abilene Fire Department had to be dispatched to extract her body from the wreckage, her husband told the government in a plea to review her case.
The 2001 Avalon is not included in the recent Toyota recalls.
Date: July 26, 2007
Victim: Troy Johnson
Location: San Jose
Model: 2007 Toyota Camry
Details: Guadalupe Gomez of Redwood City drove his 2007 Camry for 20 miles with a stuck accelerator at speeds of more than 100 mph before slamming into a Honda Accord on Interstate 280, killing the Accord’s driver, Troy Johnson, according to an attorney representing the victim’s family.
Before the crash, Gomez was unable to turn off the engine or shift into neutral and burned out the car’s brakes, said attorney Louis Franecke, who is representing Johnson’s family.
Date: Aug. 11, 2007
Victim: David B. Schowalter
Location: Cass County, Minn.
Model: 2007 Toyota Sienna
Details: The Schowalter family was returning home from a YMCA family camp when their 2007 Sienna minivan drifted into opposing traffic and collided head-on with a Lincoln Aviator, said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske in an interview.
David B. Schowalter, 47, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Karen, and four daughters were injured, as were four occupants of the Aviator, Roeske said.
Karen Schowalter filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Administration stating that an accelerator problem in the Sienna “could definitely be a factor.” Roeske said there was no indication in the accident report that a mechanical problem was a factor in the crash. The 2007 Sienna has not been recalled.
Date: Sept. 20, 2007
Victim: Barbara Schwarz
Location: Yukon, Okla.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: Jean Bookout was driving her 2005 Camry on an Oklahoma highway with Barbara Schwarz as a passenger when something caused her car “to suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate” and crash into an embankment, according to a lawsuit that Schwarz’s husband filed against Toyota.
Bookout applied the brakes as the car began to accelerate but was unable to slow the vehicle and eventually lost control, the lawsuit alleged.
The 2005 Camry has not been subject to recall, but the lawsuit filed by Charles Schwarz alleges that a defect caused the sudden acceleration and that Toyota officials were aware of the problem and failed to correct it.
Date: Oct. 26, 2007
Victim: Tyrene Livingston
Location: East Pittsburgh, Pa.
Model: 2007 Toyota Yaris
Details: Less than a week after taking her Yaris to a Toyota shop with complaints about braking problems, Tyrene Livingston was en route to her teaching internship in East Pittsburgh, Pa., when the vehicle suddenly accelerated out of control, according to police reports and a lawsuit filed by her mother, Sandra Livingston.
The Yaris crossed four lanes of highway at high speed, went over a curb, crashed through a guard rail and plunged into trees at the bottom of an embankment, killing the University of Pittsburgh graduate student, the suit said. It alleges design defects in the Yaris’ electronic throttle control, negligence by Toyota in selling Livingston a vehicle with known risks of sudden unintended acceleration and wrongful death in the 21-year-old woman’s demise.
The aspiring educator had taken her car to the dealership four days before the wreck that took her life, Sandra Livingston said in the lawsuit.
“The vehicle was inspected and tested, and Tyrene was ensured that nothing was wrong,” says the suit filed in Los Angeles federal court last week.
The Yaris has not been recalled.
Date: Feb. 20, 2008
Victim: Dustin Mullett
Location: Worthington, Iowa
Model: 2007 Toyota Tundra
Details: Dustin Mullett was driving down Iowa 136, when his Tundra accelerated, reaching speeds of up to 100 mph, before veering and smashing into a tree in Worthington, Iowa, according to a complaint filed by Mullett’s wife with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
No other vehicles were involved in the winter afternoon accident that killed Mullett, according to the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department records division.
Mullett’s wife suspected the 2008 accident was caused by a vehicle defect potentially involving the car’s all-weather floor mat, the complaint said.::
Date: April 12, 2008
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Buras, La.
Model: 2007 Toyota Camry LE
Details: In a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Camry owner in Buras, La., reported that his car suddenly accelerated out of control and that he believed the gas pedal had become trapped by the floor mat. His Toyota crashed into another vehicle, setting off explosions in both cars and killing the other driver.
No other details were provided in the December complaint. Louisiana public safety officers report no fatalities involving a Camry in their state on that date, but said there was a similar fatal crash that occurred April 20.
Date: April 19, 2008
Victim: Guadalupe Alberto
Location: Flint, Mich.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: Guadalupe Alberto was driving about 25 mph on Copeman Boulevard when the Camry suddenly accelerated to 80 mph. Alberto lost control, crashed into a tree and was killed, according to a lawsuit her family filed against Toyota.
Alberto had “vigorously and desperately applied her brakes,” but was unable to stop the car as it raced for about one-quarter mile before the crash, the lawsuit alleged. The 2005 Camry has not been recalled.
Date: Aug. 26, 2008
Victim: Kent Fly
Model: 2006 Lexus ES330
Details: Willette Green said she was heading to work in her Lexus, driving northbound along Interstate 94 in the Chicago area, when she applied the brakes to merge into the right lane. But rather than slowing, she said, the car accelerated out of her control, off the freeway and onto surface streets.
“The car kept getting faster and faster and when I looked up all I could see were red lights,” said Green, now 62. “I was just hitting everything in front of me.”
The car barreled through a fence and hit a concrete pillar before finally coming to a stop. But not before striking a pedestrian, Kent Fly, who died days later, according to his lawyer.
Green was injured and could not return to work for two months.
“My back, my neck, my arms,” she said, felt “like somebody beat me up.”
Green said Toyota inspected her smashed car then sent her a letter stating there was no mechanical failure.
Green was cited for speeding, but faced no criminal charges. An attorney who represented Fly said the family sued Green’s insurance company and reached a settlement.
Green said she has retained a lawyer and sued Toyota, claiming negligence and product liability.
The Lexus ES330 in not included in Toyota’s recent recalls.
Date: Sept. 12, 2008
Victim: Dustin Ricardo
Location: Clarksville, Tenn.
Model: 2007 Toyota Camry
Details: Dustin Ricardo’s 2007 Camry veered off a residential road, crossed the front lawn of a home and struck a tree, killing him, according to a lawsuit his family filed against Toyota.
The lawsuit noted that Ricardo’s Camry was equipped with floor mats that have been subject to recall because they could cause the accelerator pedal to become stuck and cause unintended acceleration.
Date: Dec. 15, 2008
Victim: Esook Synn
Location: Los Angeles
Model: 2004 Lexus RX330
Details: Unmi Suk Chung was driving her luxury SUV west on the 10 Freeway when she screamed in panic, “No brakes! No brakes!” passenger Lareau Kum Cho said, according to a report by the California Highway Patrol.
The Lexus accelerated to nearly 80 mph before it crashed into a car on the Overland Avenue exit ramp and overturned, killing Esook Synn, a Torrance resident who was a passenger in the back seat. Synn, 69, who was survived by her husband, Kyung; a son, Gordon; and a daughter, Aimee.
“It’s heartbreaking for us to know how scared or terrified she must have been because of the way the accident happened. It breaks our heart,” Gordon Synn said.
Larry Grassini, an attorney representing Synn’s family, said he believed an electronic malfunction caused the vehicle to accelerate while rendering the brakes useless. The RX330 is not among the models recalled by Toyota.
A woman who said she witnessed the crash wrote on the Los Angeles Fire Department website that she could see a “look of terror” in Chung’s face as the car raced toward Overland Avenue.
“They looked like they lost control of the car. The car did not look like it was decelerating at all, as if the accelerator was stuck or something,” the witness wrote.
Eleven months after the crash, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Chung with gross vehicular manslaughter without alcohol impairment and reckless driving causing injury, both felonies. Now 62, Chung faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
“This case got filed and investigated before anybody knew about the problems with these Toyotas,” said Richard Hutton, Chung’s defense attorney.
Date: Feb. 24, 2009
Victims: Janice Berg, Kenneth Berg
Location: Clear Lake City, Texas
Model: 2009 Toyota Camry
Details: Janice Berg was driving on El Camino Real when her Camry suddenly accelerated and crashed into a utility pole, a lawsuit filed by her son alleges.
Rescue workers extracted Berg, 79, and her husband, Kenneth Berg, 85, from the badly damaged vehicle but both died that night at a Houston hospital. Investigators were unable to determine a cause of the accident.
In February, the driver’s son, Kenneth Hall, filed suit against Toyota, its electronic throttle supplier, the League City, Texas, dealership that sold the car and the regional distributor. The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death, and seeks $100 million in damages.
Date: March 1, 2009
Victims: Adegoke Aladegbemi, Adeolu Julianna Aladegbemi
Location: Marietta, Ga.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: Cobb County, Ga., police have been unable to explain the crash that took the lives of a Nigerian immigrant from Sandy Springs, Ga., and his 6-year-old daughter.
Their Toyota had run a stop sign at a T-intersection in a Marietta office park and plunged into an ornamental pond, police reported. Adegoke Aladegbemi, 57, and Adeolu Julianna Aladegbemi, 6, were still alive but unconscious when firefighters pulled them from the submerged Camry. The pair were pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.
The car was owned by the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta, where Aladegbemi had worked as a driver for diplomats visiting from his native country. A consular official confirmed the chancellery had filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but declined to discuss further details about the accident
The 2005 Camry is not included in the recent Toyota recalls.
Date: March 9, 2009
Victim: Jose Madrigal
Model: 2009 Toyota Corolla
Details: Jose Madrigal, a Mexican immigrant and devoted Catholic, made the sign of the cross each time he took a drive.
“My father was not very comfortable getting in a car,” Adelina Aguilera, his daughter, said recently.
On March 9, 2009, Madrigal was a passenger in a 2009 Corolla driven by his wife of 50 years, Adelina Madrigal.
His wife said she was driving on Florence Avenue when the car suddenly accelerated, even as she applied pressure to the brakes. Trying to avoid approaching cars, she swerved onto the wrong side of the road, struck a car and then crashed into a concrete wall beneath the 605 Freeway.
Jose Madrigal, 89, was critically injured. He died March 25 from internal injuries.
“My dad was in wonderful health. He still mowed the lawn, had a great appetite, was very active,” Aguilar said. “I expected to have my father around for a long, long time.”
Downey Police Officer Sean Penrose did not believe Adelina Madrigal’s account of the accident. He issued the 71-year-old woman a ticket for speeding and wrote in his report that she must have applied the gas pedal instead of the brakes.
On April 15, three weeks after her husband’s death, she paid a fine for speeding and the case was closed, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records. It was the first ticket Madrigal ever received, her daughter said.
In January, Toyota issued a recall notice for several of its models, including the 2009 Corolla, saying a gas-pedal defect could cause the vehicle to unexpectedly accelerate.
Date: April 10, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Fort Meade, Md.
Model: 2006 Lexus IS250
Details: After experiencing sudden acceleration up to 90 mph, a 2006 Lexus IS250 owner attempted to remove the floor mat, he said in a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December from Fort Meade, Md.
The vehicle veered off the road, rolled over and landed in a ditch, ejecting one unrestrained passenger who died, the complaint said. Three other occupants experienced bruises and lacerations serious enough to send them to the hospital.
Maryland State Police reported three fatal accidents in the state on that date, but none involving a Lexus.
Date: May 27, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Austin, Texas
Model: 2007 Toyota Camry
Details: The driver of a 2007 Camry crashed on the way to the hospital, reaching speeds of up to 100 mph in an area with a posted speed limit of 40 mph, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The accident killed the driver, who was known to have bipolar disorder, but who was not known to have suicidal tendencies or a history or reckless driving, according to the complaint.
Date: Aug. 4, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Copiague, N.Y.
Model: 2005 Toyota Camry
Details: A 2005 Camry owner reported that her son-in-law was killed in a crash and that police said the vehicle had been traveling at high speed just before the collision, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The owner alleged that the accident was caused by sudden unintended acceleration.
The complaint, filed from Copiague, N.Y., in November, didn’t specify the site of the accident. Neither state nor local police recorded a fatality near that area on Aug. 4, 2009, nor could authorities find a record of a fatality involving a Camry elsewhere in the state.
The 2005 Camry is not included in the recent Toyota recalls.
Date: Aug. 11, 2009
Victim: Adam Palmer
Location: Mendon, Mass.
Model: 2007 Toyota Scion TC
Details: The last thing Joseph Mele remembers before the crash that killed his friend, 22-year-old Adam Palmer, was that he had the cruise control on his Scion set at 70 mph as he traveled northward along Interstate 495 near the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, Mele’s father said in an interview.
Massachusetts State Police investigators estimated the car crashed into a guard rail at 100 mph. Mele was able to extract himself from the vehicle after it rolled over but Palmer was not. The Scion burst into flames. Palmer was pronounced dead at the scene.
The crash remains under investigation, according to police. Mele’s father, Gary, said his son received a citation in the accident but was challenging it.
“This is in the courts,” Gary Mele said, declining to discuss the accident in more detail.
Mele’s mother, Cheryl, filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in February seeking a review of whether sudden unintended acceleration might have been the cause.
“The crashes on these cars are overlooked because drivers are mostly teenagers and young adults are buying them and officials and insurance companies blame accidents on driver inexperience,” she said in her complaint.
Gary Mele said the family hadn’t received any response from Toyota or NHTSA.
The Scion is not included in any of the recent Toyota recalls.
Date: Aug. 21, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Cranford, N.J.
Model: 1996 Toyota Avalon
Details: A 1996 Avalon driver was attempting to park when the vehicle unexpectedly shifted into reverse and accelerated 50 feet, striking and killing a pedestrian, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Even after repeated brake application, the vehicle would not stop,” reads the complaint, whose author said police suspected “mechanical failure.”
Police in Cranford, N.J., where the complaint was filed, said the 2009 accident did not occur in that city.
The 1996 Avalon in not included in Toyota’s recent recalls.::
Date: Aug. 28, 2009
Victim: Mark Saylor, Cleofe Lastrella, Mahala Saylor, Chris Lastrella
Location: San Diego
Model: 2009 Lexus ES350
Details: Off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor was driving through rush-hour traffic in suburban San Diego when his Lexus took off like a runaway rocket. With him were his wife, Cleofe Lastrella, their 13-year-old daughter, Mahala, and Cleofe’s brother, Chris Lastrella.
The family’s final moments were captured on a frantic 911 call made as the car weaved through traffic at 120 mph, flames flashing beneath the car.
“We’re in trouble. . . . There’s no brakes,” Lastrella told a police dispatcher over a cellphone.
Moments later, shrieks filled the Lexus as it slammed into another vehicle, then careened into an embankment, killing all four on board.
The accident drew extensive media coverage and prompted Toyota to recall 3.8 million cars to replace floor mats that it said could cause the accelerator to stick.
Date: Aug. 28, 2009
Victim: Noriko Uno
Model: 2006 Toyota Camry
Details: Noriko Uno, 66, had left her Upland home to do some grocery shopping and deposit the latest receipts from the family’s sushi restaurant, when her Camry suddenly accelerated to nearly 100 mph on Euclid Avenue, her family said in a lawsuit, citing police reports.
Witnesses reportedly told police that they saw the woman tearing along the eastbound lane of the suburban roadway, gripping the steering wheel, her face frozen in terror as she tried to steer out of traffic and away from pedestrians.
The car struck a telephone pole, became airborne and came to rest after crashing into a large tree, the suit says. When emergency workers extracted Uno’s body from the wreckage, they noted the hand brake had been pulled up in an attempt to halt the speeding car.
Reeling from their shock and loss, Uno’s husband, Yasuharu, and adult son, Jeffrey, were mystified as to what could have caused the normally cautious bookkeeper to be traveling at such dangerous speeds.
Then came extensive media coverage of the deaths of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and his family in the crash of a runaway Lexus on the same day as Uno’s accident, followed by a spate of recalls by Toyota. The Uno family now believes that sudden unintended acceleration caused her Noriko’s fatal accident, even though the 2006 Camry is not included in any of the recent Toyota recalls.
They filed a suit alleging wrongful death on Feb. 4, a painful decision according to their lawyer.
“They’re a Japanese family. They’ve owned nothing but Toyotas. They would have liked to see the jewel of the auto manufacturing society not tainted in any way,” the family’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian said.
The family still owns two Toyotas.
Date: Sept. 28, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Belmond, Iowa
Model: 2004 Toyota Solara
Details: In a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January from Belmond, Iowa, the family of a woman killed in the crash of her 2004 Solara speculates that sudden unintended acceleration caused the accident.
The Solara is not included in the recent recalls of Toyota vehicles.
“My mother was driving her 2004 Toyota Solara and had an accident. The car jumped the curb, hit a tree, a lamp post and crashed into a stone sign. She was taken to the hospital where they found a large bruise on her arm. The doctors sent her for a scan right away but she had a stroke and never recovered. She died four days later,” the complaint states.
“I realize that the current Toyota accelerator recall does not involve the Solara at this time, but our family is now suspicious. A cause of my mother’s accident has not been determined. She died before police were able to ask her about the accident. The car is still smashed up and has not been repaired. Should we investigate this matter further?”
Date: Oct. 13, 2009
Victims: Stephen Lagakos, Regina Lagakos, Helen Lagakos, Stephen Krause
Location: Peterborough, N.H.
Model: 2005 Toyota Highlander
Details: Stephen Lagakos, his wife, Regina Lagakos, and his mother, 94-year-old Helen Lagakos, were returning from a birthday celebration at the family’s lakeside country house in Rindge, N.H., when other motorists observed Lagakos’ 2005 Highlander traveling at high speed, passing other vehicles erratically in the breakdown lane, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration .
All three were killed when the Toyota collided with a Chevrolet Malibu on U.S. 202 near Peterborough. The driver of the Malibu, 56-year-old Stephen Krause of Keene, N.H., also died.
Reported by friends and family to be an exceptionally experienced and safe driver, Stephen Lagakos, 63, was a professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Colleagues said his work in statistical science was critical to unraveling environmental mysteries, including the contaminated water wells of Woburn, Mass., a toxic site that was the subject of the 1996 bestseller “A Civil Action " by Jonathan Harr,which was later made into a movie starring John Travolta.
The NHTSA complaint filed in January by Marvin Zelen, Lagakos’ boss, suggested that the accident was caused by sudden unintended acceleration. Zelen wrote that Lagakos was a careful driver with an excellent safety record.
“I had been in his car with him hundreds of times. Very safe driver -- no cowboy,” the report said. “Believe car had uncontrolled acceleration.”
Date: Oct. 22, 2009
Victim: Sage Janesch
Model: 2005 Toyota Prius
Details: Sage Janesch, 18, was returning home after visiting his pregnant girlfriend when his 2005 Prius jumped a curb on a winding freeway onramp and struck a support beam beneath Interstate 10. The impact tore off the car’s roof and killed Janesch instantly, the teen’s father said.
Even though the Prius has not been recalled, Steve Janesch said he believed a defect may have contributed to the crash that killed his son, a former high school wrestler and rifle marksman who had aspired to become a police officer.
“It’s a very dangerous, tight corner that my son was very well aware of. It would have been insane for him to speed through it,” the father said. “I think the car accelerated and Sage couldn’t handle it.”
After Toyota recalled some of its models for acceleration issues, the teen’s parents asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate to determine whether a defect in the Prius contributed to the crash.
“We’re hoping they will go and pull the parts off and see what was going on. We don’t want anybody else to die from this. This was our only son,” Steve Janesch said. “We can’t sue. We’re both schoolteachers. We can’t afford to do that.”
Sage Janesch’s parents,who both work at an elementary school in Vail, Ariz., said, “We would like everyone to know that our son was also an organ donor and that his selfless act has given new hope and life to several people including a woman in California who received his beautiful heart.”
Date: Nov. 6, 2009
Victim: George E. Fitts
Location: Robertson County, Texas
Model: 2007 Lexus ES350
Details: George E. Fitts, a 72-year-old certified public accountant from the East Texas town of Marshall, was driving with his brothers, William and Billy Fitts, along U.S. 79 toward Austin, heading for a University of Texas football game. The Lexus accelerated out of control and rear-ended a truck, killing George Fitts and seriously injuring his brothers, a lawsuit filed this month contended.
The suit against Toyota was brought by Fitts’ widow, Mary, their children and the wives of the injured men. It alleges that the automaker was negligent in the manufacture of the car’s electronic throttle control, in its failure to recall and repair the alleged defect, and in its failure to warn vehicle owners of earlier reports of acceleration and braking problems.
Texas state troopers who investigated the accident said it appeared that Fitts hadn’t seen that a truck driven by Shannon Marie Budzisz had stopped on the highway.
Budzisz was treated at a local hospital. A 6-year-old girl in the truck was uninjured.
Date: Nov. 27, 2009
Victim: Colleen Trousdale
Location: Auburn, N.Y.
Model: 2010 Toyota Camry
On the day after Thanksgiving, Colleen Trousdale and her 10-year-old granddaughter went out on a Black Friday shopping spree.
They were driving through a busy intersection in downtown Auburn, N.Y., their car loaded with presents, when a 2010 Camry ran a red light and slammed into the driver’s side of Trousdale’s Ford Taurus, said Auburn Police Lt. Shawn Butler.
Trousdale’s upper body was crushed and she was pronounced dead at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. She was 56. Her granddaughter survived with minor injuries.
Police questioned the Camry’s driver, 56-year-old Barbara Kraushaar, as she was being treated by paramedics. The woman had run through three red lights and was driving 60 mph before the crash, witnesses estimated. “The car had a mind of its own,” she said, according to Butler.
Doctors would later conclude that Kraushaar had suffered a stroke, Butler said. In an interview about a month after the crash, Kraushaar told police that she applied her brakes but could not stop the car, Butler said.
Police have not determined whether the stroke or mechanical failure, or both, caused the accident, Butler said.
Concerned about reports of sudden acceleration problems with the Camry, police invited the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate.
The agency removed the “black box” that holds data about the vehicle’s speed and asked Toyota officials to download it. The company reported that it was not capable of retrieving data from black boxes in 2010 Camrys, Butler said.
The information in that black box, Butler said, “is the last piece of the puzzle.”
Date: Nov. 30, 2009
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Omaha.
Model: 2008 Toyota Highlander
Details: A woman was killed in a fiery explosion that followed the crash of her 2008 Highlander, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late January from Omaha.
“The contact’s sister was driving and the vehicle accelerated across the interstate, hit an embankment and then was hit by a truck. The vehicle burned and the driver was killed as a result of the accident. The vehicle was destroyed but there was no investigation into the cause for the accident. The contact called the manufacturer but was not able to get in touch with any representatives,” the complaint states.
The Nebraska State Patrol has no record of a fatality involving a Toyota or a female victim on that date, suggesting the reported accident likely occurred in another state.
Date: Dec. 18, 2009
Victim: Trina Renee Harris
Model: 2009 Toyota Corolla
Details: A week before Christmas, 34-year-old Trina Renee Harris ran out to pick up something at the store while her two teenage daughters stayed home. Her husband, Michael, a Navy Petty Officer 1st Class, was away on duty aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego after returning from a Persian Gulf deployment.
As Harris approached a T-intersection at the end of Berry Road in suburban Houston, her 2009 Corolla suddenly accelerated, sped through the intersection with the Hardy Toll Road frontage road and crashed into a cement embankment, her family alleges in a lawsuit. Harris was killed on impact.
Michael Harris got word aboard ship and raced home to tend to his shattered family.
“They brought him home immediately to take care of their two young daughters -- they’re 13 and 14,” attorney Kenneth P. Mingledorff said of the Harrises’ children, Rhazhane Michae and Teona Renee.
Michael Harris filed a lawsuit Feb. 1 seeking $200 million in compensation and punitive damages for the loss of his young wife, a death the lawsuit alleges was caused by an “unconscionably” defective product.
Date: Dec. 26, 2009
Victims: Monty Hardy, Sharon Ransom, Hadassah Vance, Wendy Akion
Location: Southlake, Texas
Model: 2008 Toyota Avalon
Details: On the day after Christmas, Monty Hardy and three members of his church were proselytizing in a Dallas suburb, spreading their faith door to door. The four Jehovah’s Witnesses were traveling about 30 mph on a residential street in Hardy’s Avalon when the car suddenly accelerated, raced through a stop sign, crashed through a fence, hit a tree and landed upside down in a small lake, according to a police report.
All four drowned.
Hardy and his wife Linda had recently removed the car’s floor mats after receiving a recall notice from Toyota saying the mats had a propensity to cause the accelerator to stick, said Randy Roberts, a Tyler, Texas, attorney who’s representing Linda Hardy in a planned lawsuit against the carmaker.
The couple had taken the car to a local dealership for repairs because of past problems with unintended acceleration, Roberts said.
Investigators removed a “black box” that records vehicle speed and gave it to Toyota for evaluation, Roberts said. Data removed from the box show that the car was traveling at 47 mph when it hit the fence and at 45.5 mph when it hit the tree, the lawyer said.
“It’s an engine throttling at a stuck speed,” Roberts said. “To me, it’s pretty obvious that this was your classic acceleration problem. The man had a perfect driving record. He’s out doing work for his church the morning after Christmas.”
Date: Jan. 26, 2010
Location: Unknown; complaint filed from Houston.
Model: 2008 Toyota Tacoma
Details: “Please study this accident. It may relate to the gas pedal, so let Toyota know to recall this model too so to prevent another fatal accident like my brother had,” reads a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month from Houston.
The appeal for an investigation was filed four days after the Tacoma’s fatal accident.
Times researcher Zohreen Adamjee contributed to this report.