Investigation: Toyota's Troubles

February 16, 2010 7:46:35 AM PST
An Eyewitness News investigation raised serious questions concerning what Toyota knew about its problem cars, and how long they knew it for. The case which may shed light on this goes back nearly eight years to an unexplained crash of a brand new Toyota and the resulting death that's left one family wondering all this time, what really happened?

The official cause of death was an accident, but the New Jersey family always suspected something more.

How did a driver who never even had a speeding ticket lose complete control of her car and run-down three people?

Video and documents Eyewitness News has obtained left the family questioning whether it's somehow related to sudden acceleration.

"There's no other way to say it except Kathleen was killed," said Joananne Teore, the victim's sister.

In April 2002, Kathleen Kelly was sitting on a bench outside Harrah's casino when an out of control Toyota Avalon shot across the road, tossing one person into the air before plowing into Ms. Kelly, killing her instantly.

The driver was never charged, so for years, the cause of this horrific fatal accident remained a mystery to her family, until all the recent news about Toyota recalls.

"They're saying gas peddle sticking. This is too weird, you know, that's what the woman said that hit my sister. I was flabbergasted," said Teore.

That's when the sister contacted Eyewitness News and we started investigating, but because of the age of the case, police and court records had been purged.

The driver declined to talk Eyewitness News, as did the injured casino worker.

Then Eyewitness News uncovered the Medical Examiner's report on the death of Kathleen Kelly.

Inside the report, the Medical Examiner states that the driver "Told police the car suddenly accelerated" and even more troubling, he says she told police "She had just gotten the car back from the dealership" where it had been checked for "Unexpected Acceleration" but was told the "Vehicle was fine."

"We were told she had been at least two times to the dealership with the same problem. We were told that yes," said Teore, "prior to the accident, yes the car was brand new."

A check of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data base shows 28 complaints of sudden acceleration of 2002-2003 Avalon's, with a total of 9 injuries.

But, the Kelly case is not in the government data base because it was never reported, but now the family is wondering if it could be related.

2010 to 2005 Avalons have been recalled, but not the earlier models like 2002 that killed Joananne's sister.

"These cars are still out on the road," said Attorney Terry McCartney.

Terry McCartney is an attorney representing a Queens family seriously injured last summer when their brand new Japanese-made Rav 4 suddenly accelerated and went out of control on the New York Thruway.

"All these Camrys, all these Rav 4's and Avalons that haven't been recalled aren't going to be recalled, aren't going to be fixed and are out there on the road and this could happen to these folks," said McCartney.

Toyota insists its recall of 8 million cars covers all the problems with sticking gas pedals and faulty floor mats.

But this 2002 case is leading some to question whether Toyota had a deadly problem on its hands nearly 8 years before it recalled a single car.

"Whether it means recalling vehicles much further back and truly examining them and getting honest answers," said Teore.

After days of trying to get a response from Toyota to this case, they released a terse statement saying, "Toyota does not respond to inquiries in regards to litigation matters."

The case did result in lawsuits and settlements.

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