Toyota Settles Suit Over Deadly Santee Crash

It's the most serious lawsuit of the hundreds of claims the automaker faces

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Toyota Motor Corp. has settled a lawsuit brought by relatives of four family members killed in a high-speed crash near San Diego that galvanized attention around safety flaws of Toyotas and led to the recalls of millions of cars.

    A Toyota spokesman confirmed the settlement Saturday in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. It was first reported on the Los Angeles Times' Web site Friday night. The company would not specify the settlement's terms.

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    The Times said Toyota is expected to file motions with the judge disclosing the settlement on Monday. Court filings indicate the two parties reached a settlement in June.

    Tim Pestotnik, an attorney for the plaintiffs including the parents of the three adult victims, declined comment when reached by the Times.

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    The settlement left out one co-defendant -- Bob Baker Lexus, the dealer that loaned the family the car.

    "Toyota has sought to protect only its own interests. They decided to cut out their own dealer," Larry Willis, attorney for Bob Baker Lexus, told the Times. Willis said the lawsuit against the dealer had not been dropped.

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    California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor, 45, had borrowed the Toyota-made sedan from the dealer in August 2009.

    He was killed along with his wife, Cleofe, 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and Cleofe's brother Chris Lastrella, 39, as they drove on a freeway in suburban San Diego on Aug. 28. Their car reached speeds of more than 120 mph, hit a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.

    Investigators found that a wrong-sized floor mat that trapped the accelerator caused the crash.

    A 911 call captured Lastrella telling the others to pray before the car launched off the embankment.

    Shortly after the crash, Toyota recalled millions of cars to replace floor mats that it said could cause the accelerator to jam. The carmaker later recalled millions more vehicles to replace gas pedals that it said could stick.

    The case was considered the strongest of hundreds of lawsuits over claims stemming from sudden acceleration in several Toyota models, and brake glitches with the company's Prius hybrid.

    On Tuesday the automaker moved to dismiss the federal lawsuits that have been consolidated under a judge in Santa Ana.

    "Until they got rid of this case, it was going to be something everyone pointed at Toyota for," said Don Slavik, an attorney in several of the other lawsuits.