'I never got back in that car because it wasn't safe'

  • Article by: SUZANNE ZIEGLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2010 - 11:26 PM

A Minneapolis woman told a harrowing story about her runaway 2008 Camry.

If Janet Deming could have been in Washington on Tuesday to testify about her close call with her 2008 Toyota Camry hybrid, she would have been.

Deming, of Minneapolis, said she was pulling into a parking spot at Tarnhill Park in Bloomington to go to her 10-year-old granddaughter's soccer game in October when the car inexplicably accelerated, striking a tree about 5 feet away.

"I just took my foot off the gas and the car just -- schwoop! -- took off and the brakes were completely out," she recalled. "It just smashed into the tree and threw the car all the way back to the parking lot."

She has refused to get back in the car, even getting out of her lease on it early. After it was repaired, she had the auto-body shop drive it to her house and park it in the garage. And when she traded it in, she had the dealership come and pick it up.

Testimony before congressional panels investigating Toyota's problems began Tuesday. Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide -- including more than 6 million in the United States -- since last fall because of sudden acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.

Deming thinks the problem with her car was electrical or mechanical. Toyota issued a safety advisory about two weeks before her accident and a recall six weeks afterward, citing the possibility that accelerators could get lodged under floor mats. Her car was not included in the January "sticky pedal" recall.

"I never got back in that car because it wasn't safe," she said Tuesday. "I was so upset thinking that I could have killed or injured those kids or their parents."

Deming, 74, who is working as a social worker for three months at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, contacted the Star Tribune on Tuesday after learning that her case was reported in a Sunday story about sudden acceleration problems. The information about her case came from a federal report, which did not include the names of the victims.

Deming said she was injured in the Oct. 11 accident but not badly enough to go to the hospital. She has since sought medical help for soreness and pain.

The $7,000 in damage to her car was covered by her insurance company, Liberty Mutual. When news broke about Toyota's acceleration problems and recalls, Deming said she called Liberty and told it to keep her case open, which it agreed to do.

A Toyota mechanic inspected the car about a week and a half after the accident and determined that its computer did not indicate any malfunctions, she said. Toyota, she said, indicated driver error, but she is adamant that it was not her fault.

She reported the accident to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and contacted Toyota numerous times, but said it's been frustrating to try to get to the bottom of what happened.

"Toyota is committed to investigating reports of sudden acceleration involving our vehicles," a Toyota spokesman said in response to questions about Deming's case. "It's not appropriate for us to comment on specific reports whose causes are under investigation or have not been verified."

Knowing that she would never drive her Camry again, Deming tried to get the dealership, Rudy Luther Toyota, to buy out her lease, which had about $5,700 left on it. But she said it refused. The dealership declined to comment.

So she leased a Forester at Morrie's Subaru in Minnetonka, which compensated her for part of the lease.

"I just needed it out of my life," she said, adding that she now worries about where the car is now. "It makes me feel terrible -- I don't want it out there. No one should be in that car."

Morrie's Subaru said the car was sold to a wholesaler a couple weeks after they took it in.

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707

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