August 28th dawned a lovely Indian Summer day in the south east San Diego suburb of Santee, California. That late afternoon, CHP officer Mark Saylor with his wife, daughter and brother dropped their car in for service at Bob Baker Lexus of El Cajon, there they accepted the keys to a 2009 Lexus ES 350 loaner and off they went to unimaginable horrors preceding their certain deaths.
As they drove, the car began to pick up speed in spite of Saylor removing his foot from the accelerator to apply both to the brake pedal. No matter, the car sped on, faster and faster.
About 6:30 P.M. Saylor’s wife, Cleo, dialed 911 using her cell phone, to report the car had taken on some commands of its own, the accelerator was stuck. The Lexus, now traveling nearly 100 miles per hour, could not be stopped.
Lexus in Flames
Witnesses saw flames coming from the front and rear tires of the speeding vehicle. To Sargent Scott Hill, lead sheriff’s investigator this indicated “long, constant heavy braking,”
Ultimately, reaching what some described as 120 miles per hour, the crazed luxury car slammed into the rear of a truck. It then flipped over, three times, stopped and exploded, killing all its passengers in a horrific ball of burning flame.
So what happened, when the CHP officer’s job entailed vehicle safety inspections, as he tried to shut off the engine or put the car in neutral – these are common methods of slowing a vehicle with a stuck accelerator.
Unfortunately things can be more complicated according to auto experts. An electrical or mechanical failure might have made it impossible to shift to neutral, stated La Mesa based Expert Witness Daniel Vomhof III, a vehicle accident re-constructionist.
Most modern cars make shutting off the engine a poor choice since that locks the steering wheel making it impossible for a driver to direct the car’s direction of travel.
What makes this ever more tragic if that’s possible, is, this is bound to affect Toyota as a manufacturer of Lexus, Lexus owners, and dealers who handle them. Only last year, in 2008, did Toyota officially pass GM as the #1 seller of automobiles even though it sold less cars than in 2007. This was Toyota’s first annual sales decline in a decade, it’s first global operating loss since 1937 when Toyota was founded.
In ’09 Toyota sold almost 32% fewer cars in the U.S. than the first month of 2008. So is Toyota becoming sloppy in its building of safe cars?
That has yet to be discovered. JGR research did a poll asking if this mess would deter buyers from purchasing Toyota. The common response was, “I’d consider it. But if they had the only car that I wanted, I’d still buy.”
There was no polling of Lexus shoppers.
When contacted, Toyota had no comment other than Highway Safety was still investigating the disaster.
How much will this hurt sales? No one knows for sure, yet.
The other victim has to be the dealership. Even without any culpability for the event no dealer wants to be the one who let a murderous car loose to take the life of a family.
It’s doubly sad because Bob Baker has been in business for many many years with currently 11 dealerships that handle a variety of makes and model cars. The Baker family is well known as a strong supporter of the church in San Diego, additionally involved in philanthropic deeds, one of the first to come to the aid of the community.
Baker helmsman, head of the organization Bob Baker suffered loss to two close family members within the past year, so he knows the pain. If any good could possibly come of this, it may be that what our National Highway Safety Commission finds, will save other lives.