Investigation of Floor Mat's Role in Fatal Crash of Lexus ES 350 Proves Inconclusive

The San Diego Sherriff’s Department has announced that mechanical or electrical problems cannot be ruled out as the cause of the August 28 fatality crash of a Lexus ES 350 that claimed the lives of California Highway Patrol officer, Mark Saylor, and three family members.

The accident prompted Toyota to launch a recall involving 4.2 million vehicles to address what it has called "a very dangerous problem."Toyota maintains that the accident, and others like it, resulted from accelerator pedals becoming trapped beneath the vehicles’ rubber floor mats.

In the last eight years, over 1,000 incidents of unintentional accelerations have been reported by Toyota and Lexus owners throughout the U.S.

The San Diego Sherriff’s Department’s investigation into the incident yielded a 61-page report and raised as many questions as it answered.

According to the report, the Lexus ES 350 involved in the accident had experienced sudden-acceleration problems in the past. Bob Baker Lexus of El Cajon, California had loaned the ES 350 to Saylor while his Lexus was being serviced. An employee said he had warned the dealership that another customer had experienced acceleration problems while driving the auto three days before the accident.

When questioned by Sherriff’s Department investigators, Frank Bernard of San Diego County said the vehicle had accelerated to between 80 and 85 mph when the accelerator pedal became jammed by the floor mat. He told investigators that he had reported the problem to the dealership’s receptionist but could not confirm whether or not the information was passed along.

Timothy Pestotnik, a lawyer representing relatives of Saylor and his wife said, "The family has been struggling with the fact that they not only lost loved ones in the accident, but it was avoidable. The car was put back on the road with our client after the problem had been reported to the dealership."

Sherriff’s Department investigators reported that the rubber floor mats installed in the ES 350 loaner car were designed for the Lexus RX 400. Bob Baker Lexus vice president, David Ezratty, denied responsibility and claimed that the dealership would not equip its loaner cars with the wrong floor mats.

The report states that "There is an indication [the incorrect floor mat] may have caused a sudden acceleration event", but also cites the lack of an ignition key that could be used to quickly kill the engine and brake failure resulting from heavy and prolonged braking as contributing factors.

The report states, "Due to the catastrophic damage . . . other avenues of unintended acceleration could not be explored.” Investigators also stated that they were not able to extract data from the vehicle’s event data recorder – the automotive equivalent to the “black box” flight recorder used in aviation. For that reason, they claim “Beyond the all-weather floor mat, other and/or additional factors causing a sudden acceleration event (re: electrical, mechanical or computer generated) should not be ruled out."

Investigators plan to give the data recorder, along with their report, to Toyota technicians in hopes that additional information can be accessed that would shed more light on the cause of the accident.

In late September, under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Toyota recalled approximately 4.2 million Toyota Camrys, Prius hybrids and Lexus ES350s and urged owners to remove the floor mats in these vehicles until a permanent fix can be implemented. In a statement issued last month, the automaker said, "The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified."

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