A Tennessee crash victim is disputing Toyota's claims that floor mats are causing unintended acceleration in their vehicles.
The Channel 4 I-Team has pieced together the reasons into Tuesday's massive recall announcement and how it's all tied to the I-Team's two-year investigation into complaints of vehicles taking off without warning.
For two years now, the I-Team has been documenting these complaints, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed what victims have said all along: that their Toyota pick-ups were accelerating without warning.
In late August, a California Highway Patrol officer and his family were in a rented Lexus in San Diego County and called 911 for help, saying the car's pedal was stuck and they couldn't stop.
The Lexus ultimately crashed, killing all four inside.
Dover, Tenn., resident Frank Visconi learned of the accident and said he immediately thought of when his Toyota vehicle, a 2007 Tacoma, accelerated without warning and crashed.
He said his accident and the California crash have dangerous similarities: both were Toyota vehicles accelerating without warning.
A spokesman for Toyota confirmed to the I-Team that the California crash spurred them to warn drivers of several Toyota models to take out the floor mats in their cars.
A recall of 3.8 million Toyota vehicles is expected next week, but complaints about Toyota vehicles and sudden acceleration really surfaced years ago.
In 2007, the I-Team aired a series of investigations exposing drivers of 2007 Toyota Tacoma pick-up trucks reporting problems of sudden acceleration. Since then, the I-Team has been documenting more crashes of Tacomas blamed on sudden acceleration.
The I-Team also obtained a letter, dated Feb. 8, 2008, sent to Toyota from the NHTSA. It states the agency's plan to inspect the 2007 Tacoma for incidences of sudden and uncontrolled accelerations.
The agency ultimately could find no mechanical defect, but Wednesday the I-Team learned NHTSA kept investigating, ultimately confirming 102 cases of Toyota vehicles with sudden acceleration problems.
Sixteen of the 102 were from Tacoma pickups, like Visconi's. He said both Toyota and NHTSA knew there was a serious problem.
"There was enough instances that NHTSA should've called for some kind of congressional investigation," said Visconi.
Instead, Toyota and NHTSA jointly announced Wednesday the impeding recall and the removal of the floor mats, saying there's nothing wrong with the vehicles but that improper or unsecured mats can stick under the pedal and cause it to take off.
"We've never found what we call a gremlin in the system that causes the issue," said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons. "It's always been something obstructing the pedal down in the footwell area."
Visconi said he had taken out the floor mats from his Tacoma before his crash. Other Tacoma and Lexus drivers who have experienced sudden acceleration have their doubts as well.
"I think it's a mechanical problem, and I don't think the mat situation is going to solve it," said Lexus driver Millie Mussomeli.
A Toyota representative said that the vehicles are safe to drive.
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