Did Toyota Hide Life-Saving Information?

Photo: TOYOTA RECALL: Reports of Runaway Cars: Four Dead in Dallas Crash Where Problem Floor Mats Found in Trunk

Toyota, which lost six percent of its value on the U.S. stock market Wednesday, continues to be under attack, now accused of hiding information from the public that could have saved lives.

The families of the four people killed in this apparent runaway Toyota accident in suburban Dallas say quicker action by Toyota could have prevented the tragedy.

The day after Christmas, their 2008 Avalon sped off the road, through a fence and landed upside down in a pond in Southlake, Texas.

Linda Hardy, the widow of the driver, says she took the car in to her dealer to complain of the car racing out of control three separate times between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

" I said please fix my car," recalled Hardy.

Hardy says she was told there was no problem. Hardy's dealer declined to comment and referred ABC News to Toyota's corporate offices, which also declined comment.

Said Randy Roberts, Hardy's lawyer, "We're not blaming the dealership, all they knew is what Toyota told them. But that obviously was not enough."

Toyota admits it knew of the sticky gas pedals in October but did not say anything publicly until four weeks after this accident.

" Money can't bring back my husband," said Linda Hardy. "I want Toyota to take care of these problems so no one else will die."

But what happened in the Dallas case is one of the reasons Toyota is now facing possible civil fines from the federal government and a rare get-tough policy.

Within minutes of his advice to Toyota owners Wednesday morning to "stop driving," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was backtracking, calling his remarks an "obvious misstatement."

But LaHood did not walk back his criticism of Toyota during a Congressional hearing for its slow response to reports of runaway cars, and vowed to keep investigating other causes for random acceleration besides those offered by the car company.

Said LaHood, "Our [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] people, which are safety people at DOT, will continue to hold Toyota's feet to the fire to make sure they're doing everything that they said they were going to do."

Runaway Toyotas

The secretary announced a new probe of the Toyota electronics system that links the gas pedal, through a tiny computer, to the throttle.

Some experts believe there is a software glitch or that the computer is susceptible to electromagnetic waves.

"It's the electronics, it's not the pedal," said Keith Armstrong, an an electromagnetic interference expert who was interviewed just this week as part of the new federal safety probe of Toyota.

Toyota's top executives have repeatedly denied there is any electronic problem that could cause their cars to speed out of control.

Toyota's U.S. president, Jim Lentz, told ABC News on Monday that he was "confident" there is no electronic problem.

But a former top Toyota lawyer who left the company in 2007 says the company cannot be believed, that officials in Tokyo give orders to hide evidence of defects that could be damaging to the company.

"You have to understand that Toyota in Japan does not have any respect for our legal system," said Dimitri Biller. "They did not have any respect for our laws."

Biller worked four years for Toyota, handling product liability lawsuits from consumers about safety defects. Now he's blowing the whistle. He and Toyota are suing each other and he's asking a federal judge to make public documents he says will prove Toyota regularly hid evidence of safety defects.

"It was a culture of hypocrisy and deception," said Biller.

Toyota denies Biller's charges and says he is just a disgruntled former employee who is angry he lost his job.

In a statement, Toyota said Biller had left the company in 2007, and would not have any knowledge about current matters.

"Mr. Biller continues to make inaccurate and misleading allegations about Toyota's conduct that we strongly dispute and will continue to fight against vigorously," said the statement.

Toyota also said Biller did not handle unwanted acceleration cases while he worked at the company.

Biller disputes that, saying he worked as the managing attorney for Toyota on a sudden acceleration case involving Lexuses that was filed in 2005.

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