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Toyota floor mat may have contributed to crash, St. Petersburg police say

ST. PETERSBURG — After two massive Toyota recalls, a spectacular four-car crash that injured eight people late Monday quickly piqued public interest.

Was the four-vehicle crash caused by one of the sticky gas pedals that prompted last week's 2.3 million-vehicle recall? Or was it the floor mat problem that caused Toyota to recall 3.8 million vehicles in October?

After looking at the 2007 Camry — one of the models included in both recalls — police think it's neither. They think it was driver error.

While the incident is still under investigation, St. Petersburg police pointed to a plastic mat covering the accelerator pedal of the Camry as a contributing factor.

Investigators found a hard plastic floor mat, like the kind with a desk chair, cut to fit atop the factory floor mat, police spokesman Bill Proffitt said.

It appeared that heat may have warped the mat. When the gas pedal was depressed, the mat held it down.

"That doesn't mean the driver wasn't being truthful," Proffitt said. "We believe the gas pedal was stuck."

But in this case, it was likely caused by the owner of the car, not Toyota, he said.

The driver, 54-year-old Hoai Luong of 5730 35th St. N, told investigators Monday night that she was northbound in her 2007 Camry in the middle lane of 34th Street N as she approached Central Avenue.

Through a police officer who could translate Vietnamese, Luong said the accelerator stuck, causing her to accelerate out of control and into the rear of a 1985 Chrysler sedan, stopped at Central Avenue and 34th Street N (U.S. 19). The Chrysler was then pushed into the rear of a 2001 Chrysler sedan.

Luong's Toyota Camry then flipped, slid across the intersection and struck the front of a 2006 Nissan sedan, police said.

Several of the eight drivers and passengers in the vehicles were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, and one person fled the scene.

The owner of the Camry, Tuan Minh Tran, who lives at the same address as Luong, said he had taken the vehicle to a Toyota dealership the day before to have the accelerator pedal inspected after a recent recall by Toyota. Toyota did not find problems with the pedal, Tran told police.

Neither Luong not Tran could be reached Tuesday, and a girl who answered the door at their address said the family wished to be left alone.

It was unclear whether anyone involved tried to blame Toyota for the crash, though Toyota's recent troubles are well known across the country.

In October 2009, Toyota announced the recall of 3.8 million vehicles — including the 2007 Camry — for accelerator pedal entrapment by the floor mat.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advised vehicle owners to take out all removable floor mats on the driver's side or ensure that any mats are properly secured. The agency also confirmed that five people in two separate incidents died as a result of pedal entrapment in the recalled vehicles.

Toyota's latest recall of 2.3 million vehicles is for an accelerator pedal problem that causes it to be harder to depress and slower to return to the closed position, or to get stuck in a partially depressed position.

As of Monday, safety agency officials said they were not aware of any deaths or injuries because of this problem.

But blame could be on its way.

According to the Toronto Sun, a Canadian law firm announced Monday that it filed a class action lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeking compensation on behalf of Canadian owners of the faulty vehicles.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Four people were injured in a four-vehicle crash at 34th Street and Central Avenue Monday night in St. Petersburg.

EAMONN KNEESHAW | Special to the Times

Four people were injured in a four-vehicle crash at 34th Street and Central Avenue Monday night in St. Petersburg.

On the Web

Watch video from the crash site at video.tampabay.com.

Toyota floor mat may have contributed to crash, St. Petersburg police say 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 11:19pm]
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