What's causing some Toyotas to take off?

November 16, 2009 8:58:30 AM PST
New questions about what some are calling runaway Toyotas. There are now an estimated 2,000 cases nationwide of Toyota cars, including Camry's Prius and Lexus, suddenly accelerating without warning.

Reporter Sarah Wallace talked with one Family from Elmhurst, Queens, about their terrifying experience.

The company and U.S. government officials claim there is no evidence of a systematic electrical problem. They say these cases are all caused by improperly fitting floor mats or driver error. Customers with runway Toyotas claim the company is in denial.

"I just noticed the car speeding out of control and my father trying to put on the brakes but the car didn't slow down," Carol Leong said.

Carol Leong's college bound dreams derailed two months ago in a sickening instant when the family's brand new Toyota RAV-4 careened out of control and then crashed on the New York State Thruway. The 17-year-old and her parents were on their way to SUNY Buffalo from Elmhurst, Queens for Carol's freshman year.

"The car did not slow down. It did not slow down," Kong Ie Leong said, who added there was nothing he could do to stop the vehicle. "I'm very scared. And I'm thinking, what happened."

The Leong's never got to Buffalo. They ended up in a Rochester hospital, all of them with massive severe head, neck and back injuries. And now they have filed a lawsuit against Toyota.

"We know it's not the floor mat and we know Mr. Leong wasn't pressing the brake because there are eyewitnesses," attorney Terrence McCartney said.

Just one day after the Leong's accident in New York, a California highway patrol officer, his wife, their daughter and a brother-in-law died in an accident involving a 2009 Lexus. On the 911 call from the back seat, the caller says "Our accelerator is stuck. We're in trouble. There are no brakes."

Toyota claimed the problem was the wrong-sized all-weather rubber floor mat in the car which caught and held down the gas pedal. The company ordered a massive floor mat recall and the federal government said that should solve the problem.

But one couple says their Highlander, which suddenly surged to almost 100 miles an hour, did not have the floor mat involved in the recall and that there was nothing underneath the gas pedal.

Auto Safety analyst Sean Kane says he has tracked reports of runaway Toyotas through lawsuits, police reports and complaints to the federal government, and found hundreds of accidents and 16 deaths.

Some owners believe there's a glitch in the electronic computer system used in Toyotas that controls the throttle. Kane says the acceleration complaints shot up after the company started implementing the system in 2002.

Toyota officials would not be interviewed, but posted this statement on line last night from executive Bob Daly.

After back surgery to fuse her vertebrae, Carol Leong will finally begin college in January, but her family and others across the country say Toyota can't hide from the truth forever.

"I just winced. And my first thought was my worst nightmare is coming true. That Toyota ignored us. They blew off the problem. And that now people have died because of it," Ted James said.

You can read more about this issue on The Blotter on abcnews.com.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com.



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