During today’s House Committee on Energy & Commerce hearing on the Toyota recall debacle, Congress heard from Rhonda Smith, a former Lexus owner who detailed her 2006 brush with death — and the even more horrid tale of her repeated attempts to get either Toyota or NHTSA to listen to her. Perhaps most chilling, Rhonda even tried to put the car in neutral while hurtling down the road, but not even that could stop the “possessed” Lexus.
While driving her car near her home in Tennessee in 2006, Rhonda’s Lexus ES350 began to accelerate quickly and without warning.
“I put the car into all available gears, including neutral,” she recalled about her fruitless attempt to slow the car down. Ms. Smith says she even put the car into reverse, in which position the gearshift remained as the car quickly reached a speed of 100mph.
After putting both feet on the brake and employing the emergency brake to no avail, Ms. Smith began to think that her only choice was to run her car into the guardrail, if only to save the other drivers on the highway.
Fearing death, she called husband. “I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time,” she recalled. “After six miles later, God intervened,” and the car began to slow on it own, though the engine continued to rev itself in cycles. When the vehicle had finally slowed to around 35 mph, she was able to stop the engine.
Upon her husband’s arrival on the scene, they looked at the accelerator and found nothing amiss about it or the floor mats. They did however make a note that the car’s radio was still operating.
As he helped the tow truck driver with the Lexus, Ms. Smith’s husband switched the car into neutral, causing it to lurch forward suddenly.
When the contacted Toyota about the incident, the car company said they would investigate immediately.
That never happened.
Instead, after repeated calls by Ms. Smith, they were sent a 5-sentence letter by Toyota that included the statement:
“When properly maintained, the brakes will always override the accelerator,” implying that the cause of her sudden acceleration was a problem of poorly maintained brakes.
As Ms. Smith said before Congress today, “Shame on you Toyota for being so greedy… And shame on you NHTSA.”
Here’s a partial transcript:
I merged over into the second lane. Not going into passing gear. At this time, I lost all control of the acceleration of the vehicle. The car goes into passing gear and the cruise light comes on at this time. I’m thinking that maybe the cruise is what caused the car to keep accelerating, as my foot is not on the gas pedal.
I take off the cruise control, but the car continues to accelerate. To make a long story short, I put the car into all available gears including neutral, but then I put it in reverse and it remains in reverse as the car speeds to over 100 mph down the interstate.
I place both feet on the brake after I firmly engage the emergency brake and nothing slows the car.
I figure the car is going to go its maximum speed and I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guard rail in order to prevent killing anyone else, and I prayed for god to help me.
I called my husband on the blue tooth phone system.
I knew [pauses to keep from crying] I’m sorry.
I knew he could not help me but I wanted to hear his voice one more time.
After 6 miles God intervened as the car came very slowly to a stop. I pulled it to the left median. With the car stopped and both feet still on the brake, the motor still revved up and down. At 35 mph it would not shut off. Finally, at 33 mph, I was able to turn the engine off.
After my husband arrived, he found nothing unusual about the accelerator or the floor mats, but the strange thing was that the dash lights and the radio were still on.
After the wrecker arrived, we gave the vehicle fob to the wrecker driver. When he hooked the car and prepared to winch it on to the back, he asked my husband to put the car in neutral so he could start the winch.
The driver was standing 20 to 25 feet away at the controls. Without thinking, my husband sat down in the car without the key fob and was able to shift the car into neutral, which he shouldn’t have been able to do. When he did that the car actually tried to start itself.
RELATED: Toyota: 911 Call Of Family’s Fatal Lexus Crash Due To Gas Pedal Stuck On Floormats (Warning, graphic.)