Widow asks Toyota to move now on floor mat accelerator hazard

by Yuri Kageyama

The Associated Press

Two years before the fatal accident that prompted Toyota Motor Corp. to warn 3.8 million U.S. car owners to take out floor mats, Troy Johnson died in a crash also suspected of being caused by a floor mat jamming an accelerator.

Melodie Bohuchot, his widow, pleaded with Toyota Thursday to act quickly to prevent any more accidents.

“I just want Toyota to fix the problem now. Don’t wait,” Bohuchot, 30, said in an interview in Sacramento, Calif. “How many people have to die before they take this seriously?”

Earlier this week, Toyota informed the U.S. government it will be sending letters by first-class mail to owners of the best-selling Camry, the Prius hybrid and other models to remove floor mats on the driver’s side and not replace them. It was the second time in a little over two years that Toyota has acknowledged problems with floor mats in the United States.

Toyota said the gas pedal may get stuck when the floor mat is unsecured or incompatible, making it difficult to stop and potentially causing a crash that could result in serious injury or death.

Toyota has also distributed a statement of warning through the media and on its Web site. It expects to begin sending the letters in late October and complete the effort in December.

But Bohuchot was worried people may find out too late, and urged Toyota to get word out immediately.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said it takes time to reach every customer. “There are a lot of customers involved. Our objective is to contact them as soon as possible,” he said.

The latest recall — Toyota’s biggest in the U.S. — followed a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350, that killed California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, 45, his wife, 13-year-old daughter and brother-in-law.

Johnson, 39, was killed July 26, 2007, the same day he got a job as a dispatcher for a taxi company, and appeared on track to turning his life around after years of drug problems and being in and out of jail on assault charges.

Johnson’s Honda Accord was hit from behind on a highway near San Jose, Calif., by a 2007 Toyota Camry, whose accelerator had gotten jammed by a Toyota-supplied floor mat, according to court documents.

The Camry was speeding out-of-control at up to 190 kph, and slammed into Johnson’s vehicle, killing him instantly. The car burst into flames, burning his body beyond recognition, court records say.

Toyota recalled the floor mats at that time. Charges against the driver of the Camry were dropped. Bohuchot said she bore no ill feelings toward him.

Bohuchot sued Toyota in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in California, and reached a deal with the world’s biggest automaker in 2008. Bohuchot and her lawyers declined to disclose the amount.

Toyota declined comment on past litigation.

Last week, Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for the worries the floor mat problems were causing for those who had bought Toyota vehicles believing in their safety.

“Four precious lives have been lost,” Toyoda told reporters in Tokyo of the August crash. “I offer my deepest condolences.”

Toyota says floor mats on the driver’s side must be removed from the 2007-2010 model year Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 Lexus IS250/IS350.

Mohinder Mann, Bohuchot’s attorney, said her client has nothing to gain by speaking out but was doing what she thought was the right thing.