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Toyotas, deaths and sudden acceleration

February 28, 2010|By Stuart Pfeifer, Carol J. Williams and Robert Faturechi

At least 56 people have died in U.S. traffic accidents in which sudden unintended acceleration of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles has been alleged, according to complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, lawsuits and police and state highway patrol reports. Some of the victims' names are unknown because NHTSA did not disclose them and they could not be confirmed through other sources. A Toyota spokesman declined to comment, saying the company does not discuss cases in which litigation has been, or could be, filed.

Here are the accounts of those fatalities, based on public records.

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Date: March 2, 1992

Victim: Stanley Sirnik

Location: West Virginia

Model: 1992 Toyota 4Runner

Details: When his sport utility vehicle suddenly began to accelerate on a winding road -- his brakes ineffective and his cruise control locked -- Stanley Sirnik drove up an embankment to avoid an approaching cliff, according to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 1992 4Runner, which is not included in any recent Toyota recalls, flipped and Sirnik was killed instantly, according to the complaint, which was filed by Sirnik's wife.

Sirnik had been traveling about 40 mph before the unintended acceleration, according to the complaint. Sirnik's brother, a passenger in the vehicle, was badly injured, the complaint said.

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Date: Sept. 4, 2003

Victim: Maria Cafua

Location: Wilmington, Mass.

Model: 2002 Toyota Camry

Details: Maria Cafua, 44, was in the middle of her early morning commute when the woman's 2002 Camry accelerated across three lanes before being broadsided by another car in the fast lane, according to relatives and a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The accident on Interstate 93 on a rainy day in Wilmington, Mass., put Cafua in a coma. The Portuguese immigrant died eight months later.

Cafua is survived by her husband and three children, who were 23, 18 and 10 at the time of the accident.

The 2002 Camry is not included in Toyota's recent recalls.. Still, David Cafua, now 29, said he believed the accident that killed his mother was caused by a defect in the car.

He said his mother had been taking the same route to her factory job for 12 years. The commute to nearby Watertown was too familiar, he said, and Cafua too cautious of a driver to be involved in such a freak accident.

For now, he said, the family has no intention of taking legal action against the automaker.

"We don't have the money or resources to try to fight Toyota," David Cafua said.

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Date: Jan. 22, 2004

Victims: George Yago Jr. and Maureen Yago

Location: Las Vegas

Model: 2002 Toyota Camry

Details: George Yago was pulling his 2002 Camry slowly into a space on the fourth floor of the parking structure at the Golden Nugget hotel and casino when the car sped up, crashed into a concrete barrier and flew off of a ledge, according to a statement by the Las Vegas Metro Police.

The vehicle plunged four floors and landed on its roof in an alley, killing Yago, 83, and his wife, Maureen, 79. Police said they did not believe alcohol or drugs were a factor.

A relative of the couple filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, noting that the accelerator pedal may have been a factor. The 2002 Camry is not part of the recent recall.

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Date: March 14, 2004

Victim: Ethyl Marlene Foster

Location: Phoenix, Ore.

Model: 2004 Toyota Camry

Details: As was routine, Ethyl Marlene Foster, 67, was picked up at her home by a friend for church.

The two noticed that the car's gears stuck when the driver shifted from park into reverse. But it wasn't until the shift to drive that the car accelerated uncontrollably, plowing into a mobile home nearby, according to a complaint filed by relatives with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Camry crashed into the double-wide mobile home with such impact that it moved the structure a foot, according to the complaint. The accident injured the driver, and killed Foster, who was crushed by the impact.

Foster's relatives contacted Toyota after the 2004 accident but the company declined to speak with them, according to the complaint.

Clarence Foster, the victim's husband of 48 years, said he was suicidal and "numb" for years after the crash. Thouh the 2004 Camry in not included in Toyota's recent recalls, the family alleges that a defect in the car was to blame for the accident and is taking legal action against the carmaker, he said.

In addition to her husband, Foster is survived by four daughters, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Date: March 15, 2004

Victim: Blossom Malick

Location: Delray Beach, Fla.

Model: 2003 Toyota Camry

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