NBC33 Safety Alert: Car Mats Can Pose Danger

POSTED: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - 9:56am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 11:59pm

Federal investigators have found a stuck accelerator played a significant role in the crash of a Lexus that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three family members.

On Sept. 26, off-duty CHP officer Mark Saylor, 45, was driving a Lexus ES 350 near Santee. Witnesses reported seeing the Lexus weaving through traffic at a high rate of speed. Saylor tried to make a left turn, but he was going too fast and struck a Ford Explorer.

The Lexus broke through a fence and struck a dirt embankment, catapulting it through the air more than 100 feet. Saylor, his wife Cleofe, their daughter Mahala and his brother-in-law Chris Lastrella died in the crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a new report that during inspection, "removal of the mat was difficult because the bottom edge of the accelerator pedal had melted to the upper right corner of the mat.

Further inspection of the mat revealed that while it was a Lexus brand mat, it was not the "correct application" for the vehicle, the report showed.

The mat in the crashed Lexus was made for a Lexus RX400h, according to the report. A Toyota spokesman said the findings were as expected. The company advises that all Lexus and Toyota owners remove driver-side floor mats as indicated in the Sept. 29 safety advisory.

A spokesman from Toyota said it is only a temporary measure. "We're still pursuing a vehicle-based remedy to prevent it from happening in the future," said Brian Lyons of Toyota. The NHTSA report also stated that the lack of an emergency-engine-shutoff device was also a significant factor in the crash.

"In place of the key is a software push button that delays engine shutdown for three seconds once depressed," according to the report. "This instruction is not indicated on the dashboard." Letters will go out to Lexus and Toyota owners this week on further action. The automaker also said it is waiting for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's investigation to complete its investigation.