SAN DIEGO (AP) — A customer complained of gas-pedal problems with a dealership’s loaner Lexus three days before the same car accelerated out of control and killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three family members, a report obtained Friday said.
Frank Bernard, 61, told investigators he told a receptionist at the El Cajon dealership that the gas pedal on the Lexus ES350 was sticking under the floor mat, the same problem that led to the deadly crash three days later on Aug. 28, said the report from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained the sheriff’s report through family attorneys.
Bernard said he was worried the receptionist didn’t understand him and emphasised the problem.
“I think the mat caused it,” Bernard remembered saying. “You need to tell someone.”
The 20-year-old receptionist, Jessica Martin-Dunleavy, first told investigators she did not remember Bernard or any complaints, according to the report. In a subsequent interview she said she remembered an older couple saying the mat forced the car to accelerate and told the detail specialist on duty. The specialist said no one reported any problems to him, according to the report.
An attorney for Bob Baker Lexus El Cajon, the dealer that loaned the car to both Bernard and Saylor, declined comment when reached by the newspaper, saying he hadn’t seen the report.
The crash in Santee near San Diego killed Officer Mark Saylor, 45; his wife Cleofe, also 45; his daughter Mahala, 13; and his brother-in-law Chris Lastrella.
Their vehicle reached speeds of more than 120 mph, hit a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
They made a frantic 911 call from the Lexus, telling a dispatcher the pedal was stuck and they couldn’t stop.
Investigators found that a wrong-sized floor mat that trapped the accelerator was the cause of the crash.
That led Toyota to recall 3.8 million of its Lexus and Toyota vehicles in October over the oversized mats.
The high-profile incident led Toyota President Akio Toyoda to call the fatal crash “extremely regrettable” and offer his “deepest condolences.”
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.signonsandiego.com
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