Probe determines floor mats not to blame in fatal Southlake crash

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by JONATHAN BETZ / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on January 5, 2010 at 8:45 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 8 at 12:28 PM

SOUTHLAKE, Texas - For two weeks, investigators in Southlake have been trying to figure out if a crash in which a car plunged into a pond killing four people could be connected to a nationwide Toyota recall.

Four Jehovah's Witnesses died when a 2008 Toyota Avalon they were riding inside raced out of control and plummeted into a pond on December 26.

While the cause of the crash remains a mystery, investigators have determined the crash wasn't due to faulty floor mats.

Speculations had swelled over whether the car's mat had become stuck on the accelerator, which was one of the reason's Toyota recalled the Avalon, along with several other models. But, investigators found the floor mats in the car's trunk after the accident, ruling out the mat theory.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration were called in to investigate whether the crash was related to the recall. Meanwhile, Southlake police said they have found no telltale signs as to why the car sped out of control.

"I think they may get there by at least determining what didn't cause the accident, help them at least get closer to the truth," said Lt. Ben Brown, Southlake Police Department.

Authorities have still not ruled out the Avalon as the cause of the accident. Investigators are inspecting the vehicle to determine whether the throttle or another type of mechanical issue is to blame for the sudden acceleration.

"They are dealing with similar issues in other states across the country," Brown said.

Investigators revealed the car was going 40 mph when it hit a tree and then went into the pond. The speed was fast enough to briefly send the car airborne. There were no signs of braking, which has led to frustration for investigators who often rely on skid marks to determine what happened.

"We know which direction the vehicle was heading and what surfaces it was traveling across and how it eventually came to rest; we just don't know why," Brown said.

Another theory police are considering is that the driver could have mistook the gas pedal for the brake. However, police conceded Tuesday that they may never know what went wrong the day of the crash.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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