Toyota safety in spotlight after fatal US crash

Updated: 2010-11-16 06:34


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SALT LAKE CITY - Police suspect problems with a Toyota Camry's accelerator or floor mat caused a Utah crash that killed two people and injured two others, raising new concerns about the safety of the vehicles.

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Paul Vanalfen's 2008 Camry slammed into a rock wall in Wendover on November 5, killing him and passenger Charlene Lloyd. Police said the 66-year-old man from Washington Terrace died at the scene, and the 38-year-old Lloyd died the following day.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt Nathan Croft told The Salt Lake Tribune that the Camry was subject to at least three recalls. The recall and repair for a sticking accelerator, had been completed, he said.

In the past year, Toyota Motor Corp has recalled millions of vehicles because of floor mats that can snag gas pedals or accelerators that can sometimes stick. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed against Toyota after the automaker began issuing the worldwide recalls.

The crash occurred on Nov 5 as Vanalfen, his wife, son and the son's fiancee traveled through an isolated area of western Utah.

Tire skid marks at the crash site showed Vanalfen tried to stop the Camry as it exited Interstate 80, Croft said. The car went through a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp and through an intersection before hitting the wall, according to the police report.

The Camry's brakes appeared to be in working order, Croft said.

Vanalfen's wife, Shirlene, 61, and son, Cameron, 34, were treated and released for injuries at Salt Lake's University Hospital, said spokeswoman Cathy Wilets.

Lloyd, from West Haven, and Cameron Vanalfen, from Clinton, were not wearing seatbelts, according to a police report.

Croft said authorities are investigating whether the recalls and repairs for a short accelerator pad and a sticky floor mat were also completed.

Croft said investigators' suspect that one of those problems caused the crash.

"We can't say definitely, but there is a strong likelihood that that in fact did cause the crash," Croft told the newspaper.

Toyota told The Associated Press that it was "supporting the Utah Highway Patrol with their investigation."

"Toyota sympathizes with the friends and family of Paul Vanalfen," Toyota Motor Corp spokesman Paul Nolasco in Tokyo said Monday.

Nolasco said he did not have details on whether the Camry underwent any fixes under its recall. He said it was premature to draw any conclusions with the investigation ongoing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has received about 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration from Toyota drivers in the past decade, including 93 deaths. The government, however, has confirmed only four deaths from one crash.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was reviewing the facts surrounding the Utah crash but declined further comment.

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