The driver who crashed into an Edina gas station over the weekend says her Toyota SUV started speeding on its own and she steered toward bags of mulch out front to keep the damage to a minimum.
Hanan Z. Sabri, 46, of Edina, was heading east on Interlachen Boulevard at midday Saturday when her 2014 Toyota RAV4 left the road, missed numerous gas pumps and punched a hole in the main entrance of the Holiday station just north of Vernon Avenue.
Sabri lost consciousness and suffered other injuries, and four people on foot in or near the station were also injured, said her attorney, Robert Speeter. Police said one person standing outside the gas station near the pumps suffered a fractured femur. The station reopened Monday.
"We believe the vehicle was defective," Speeter told the Star Tribune Monday.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons declined to field questions, but instead released a statement that read, "We remain committed to investigating reported incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly. We will also work in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies and federal regulators with jurisdiction over accident scenes whenever requested."
The automaker has for years been dealing with motorists reporting unintended acceleration of vehicles — often Camrys — that at times proved deadly. In one case, Koua Fong Lee, of St. Paul, said his Camry malfunctioned on Interstate 94 at the Snelling Avenue exit, leading to a crash that caused the deaths of three people and Lee's imprisonment for two years for vehicular homicide.
In a 2015 trial, a jury found Lee 40 percent at fault and Toyota 60 percent at fault and awarded Lee and other crash victims a total of $11.4 million.
Before the civil trial, defense attorney Bob Hilliard won Lee's release from prison after presenting evidence that Toyota Camrys had a history of sudden, unintended acceleration. Toyota RAV4s have also been suspected of unintended accelerations.
This weekend, "Ms. Sabri's vehicle began full acceleration by itself about three blocks before the gas station," Speeter said. "She had to make a split-second decision as where best to crash as she had no other choice. She was aiming for the bags of mulch."
A longtime vehicle safety researcher said Monday that "virtually every model of Toyota has been implicated in these [unintended acceleration incidents]."
Sean Kane, founder and president of Massachusetts-based Safety and Research Strategies, said, "Rare is a day when I don't get a call on another one of these problems."
Kane, whose firm has been scrutinizing the safety of industrial and consumer products since 1991, said that the popular Camry model has gotten most of the attention, but similar complaints have involved RAV4 models, including Sabri's model.
The problem, Kane said, is with the electronic throttle control. He said the engine in Sabri's RAV4 and many of the troubled Camrys is the same and "they have virtually the same electrical design for their throttle control systems."
Sabri is fully cooperating with authorities, he said.
Speeter said Sabri has kept up with the manufacturer's recommended maintenance and bought a lifetime warranty policy when she purchased the used vehicle. He added that his client has a speeding ticket from 2014 on her driving record, which also shows a stop sign violation in 2011.
"She did everything she could," Speeter said. "The brakes wouldn't respond. She tried to take it out of gear, and that didn't happen because you have to hit the brake first."