Toyota safety in spotlight after fatal Utah crash

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WENDOVER — The Utah Highway Patrol is investigating whether an accelerator problem that has plagued newer models of the Toyota Camry played a part in a car crash that left two Utahns dead.

Paul Vanalfen, 66, of Washington Terrace, and his son's fiancé, Charlene Lloyd, 38, of West Haven, died from injuries they sustained in a Nov. 5 crash off of I-80 westbound near Wendover, the UHP reported. Vanalfen, his wife Shirlene, 61, his son, Cameron, 34, and Lloyd had exited the highway when Vanalfen failed to stop at a stop sign at the bottom of the exit ramp, slamming the vehicle head-first into a rock wall.

Vanalfen died at the scene, while Lloyd died early the next morning at the area hospital. Vanalfen's wife and son sustained serious injuries, but were treated and later released from University Hospital.

Highway patrol Sgt. Todd Johnson said inspectors examined the cars braking mechanisms and found no problems. "It tells us that the vehicle did have braking capability," said Johnson.

He said inspectors also found a pattern of short skid marks, indicating the anti-lock braking system was functioning.

Toyota recalled millions of cars after it was found their floor mats could snag gas pedals or that the cars' accelerators would sometimes stick.

UHP Sgt. Nathan Croft said Vanalfen had completed two recalls on his vehicle, including one that was voluntary and one that was mandatory. The Camry was subject to a third, voluntary recall that Vanalfen had not completed.

Croft said authorities are investigating whether the recalls and repairs for a short accelerator pad and a sticky floor mat were also completed.

Officials for Toyota said they are "supporting the Utah Highway Patrol" with the investigation and extended their regrets to Vanalfen's family.

"Toyota sympathizes with the friends and family of Paul Vanalfen," Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Paul Nolasco in Tokyo said Monday.

Nolasco he did not have details on whether the Camry underwent any fixes under its recall and said it was too soon to draw any conclusions as the investigation is ongoing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has received about 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration from Toyota drivers in the past decade, including 93 deaths. The government, however, has confirmed only four deaths from one crash.

------ Story compiled with contributions from Emiley Morgan , Marc Giauque and the Associated Press.


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