'We Don't Want Another Family to Suffer:' Crash Victim's Mom

Fatal crash victims' relative gives emotional testimony

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    The mother and grandmother of victims in a Santee fatal accident addressed Congress Wednesday in the hearings on Toyota safety problems.

    It was the Aug. 28, 2009, crash that killed off-duty CHP officer Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law -- apparently when the gas pedal on the Lexus 'loaner' stuck on the floor mat at 120 mph -- that put the harsh spotlight on Toyota's level of commitment to safety in the U.S.

    Congress Grills Toyota Execs

    [DGO] Congress Grills Toyota Execs
    The apology by Akio Toyoda -- the grandson of the company's founder and a certified test driver himself -- came in testimony to a Congressional committee that has two members who represent North County. (Published Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010)

    Fe Lastrella, the mother of Cleofe Saylor and Chris Lastrella and grandmother of Mahala Saylor, all of whom died in the crash was understandably emotional during her testimony.

    "Thank you so much for listening to me," Lastrella said at the conclusion of a tearful recounting of the tragedy's affect on her family. "I know I didn't come here to cry on someone else's shoulder ... it is for the safety of the world."

    "We don't want another person, another family to suffer like we are suffering," Lastrella said.

    Toyota's top executive publicly apologized Wednesday for the role one of his company's cars played in the deaths of the Saylor and Estrella family members.

    The apology by Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder and a certified test driver himself, came in testimony to a Congressional committee that has two members who represent North County.

    Toyoda and Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota's North American CEO, endured more than three hours of skeptical, sometimes caustic questioning and comments from the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. Committee members focused on why Toyota adjusted the accelerator only in its Japanese-market vehicles, after drivers there reported sudden acceleration problems three years ago."'[Toyota] took a shortcut on the mats here in 2007, while in Japan they increased the clearance of the pedal," said U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-49th District), the ranking member of the committee. "The difference is the difference in San Diego of that family still being alive."

    Toyoda said his company's rapid growth outstripped its ability to troubleshoot and make safety corrections.

    "I am deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers experienced," Toyoda told the committee. "Especially I would like to extend condolences to the members of the Saylor family for the accident in San Diego. I would like to send my prayers again. And I will do everything in my power to insure that such a tragedy never happens again."

    The Toyota executives were urged to expedite efforts to make information from their "event data recorders" -- the automotive equivalent of "black boxes" in aircraft -- downloadable by outsiders. They were also urged to complete tests that would indicate whether electronic, as well as mechanical defects, are behind the many safety problems that have prompted the recall of 8.5 million Toyota vehicles worldwide.

    Asked by U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-50th District) whether the U.S. government should mandate the reporting of any malfunction in a Toyota vehicle, Toyoda -- in roundabout fashion -- agreed.

    In response to Inaba's expressing "100 percent" confidence in the safety of the U.S.-made Toyota Camry hybrid, Bilbray remarked: "It's one thing to stand behind your vehicles. It's another thing to ask the American people to stand in front of them. Especially with their children. One hundred percent is a very strong statement, and it's fine to say it here in these hearings, but out in the real world, we've had some terrible tragedies."