HARRISON, N.Y. - Computer data from a Toyota Prius that crashed in Westchester County shows that the throttle was open and the driver was not applying the brakes just before it hit a stone wall, U.S. safety officials said yesterday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that an analysis of the 2005 hybrid's "black box" data recorder found no braking in the March 9 crash. That and the "wide open" throttle prompted investigators to suspect the driver may have inadvertently been pressing the gas pedal instead of the brake.
The disclosure prompted an angry response from the Harrison police captain investigating the cause of the accident. He said his probe was not over and driver error had not been established.
"For any agency to release data and to draw conclusions without consulting with the law enforcement agency that brought this to light could be self-serving," said Capt. Anthony Marraccini.
The housekeeper who was driving the Prius told police that it sped up on its own down a driveway, despite her braking, and crashed into a stone wall across the street.
As with many recent accidents involving Toyota-made vehicles, it set off an intense investigation. Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars since last fall over gas pedals that could become stuck or be held down by floor mats.
Meanwhile, a Westchester County couple filed a wrongful-death lawsuit yesterday against the automaker, alleging that their 2008 Lexus RX350 SUV suddenly accelerated and crashed, fatally injuring their 5-year-old son, according to a BusinessWire report.
Nancy and Daniel Murtha of Cortlandt Manor charge in their suit that "Toyota for years was aware that its vehicles were susceptible to sudden, unintended acceleration, leading to fatal accidents," according to their attorney, Robert J. Nelson.
Jacob Murtha sustained severe injuries and died hours later at Westchester County Medical Center after the July 2008 crash. His mother was in a coma for six days, the suit says. She had severe internal organ damage and injuries to her neck, lower back, right knee and right hip, the lawsuit said.
According to Nancy Murtha, 46, she was wearing her seat belt and her son was in the backseat, strapped into his child car seat, when she tried to slow down to pull over.
She said she that instead of stopping, the Lexus suddenly accelerated and she hit a rock wall.