The driver, Kevin Haggerty, credited ABC News with saving his life because he had seen a previous report that described what to do in the event of sudden acceleration. By shifting back into neutral, and back into drive when necessary, Haggerty was able to prod his broken vehicle to the dealership, where he said employees there saw that his problem with unintended acceleration firsthand had nothing to do with his floor mat.
However, Haggerty maintained that his sudden acceleration problem was not caused by a sticky pedal either. Regardless, today court documents showed Toyota knew about the sticky pedal problem in other Toyota models months before the recall and decided not to disclose it to regulators or the public.
For other drivers, it was already too late. In addition to deaths like the Saylors linked to unintended acceleration, a Minnesota man was serving an eight-year prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter when evidence emerged suggesting he could have been a victim of Toyota’s acceleration problem. After serving two years in prison, Koua Fong Lee was released and charges against him were dropped in 2010.
Earlier that year, an unidentified Toyota employee appeared to realize the dangerous game the company was playing.
“Idiots! Someone will go to jail if lies are repeatedly told. I cannot support this,” the unidentified employee said after a meeting between Toyota and regulators in January 2010, according to court documents.
Instead of jail, the company is now on the hook for the massive $1.2 billion fine, which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said was the largest penalty of its kind for an auto manufacturer. The money is due by March 25.
“Toyota confronted this public safety emergency as if it was a public relations problem,” Holder said.
A senior Justice official added that Toyota made "blatant misrepresentations" in what he called a classic case of corporate culture that favored the seemingly easy way out instead of paying the cost and doing the right thing.
"The cover up is always going to be worse than the original sin," the official said.
In a statement posted on its website, Toyota said that at the time of the recalls the company “took full responsibility for any concerns our actions may have caused customers, and we rededicated ourselves to earning their trust.”
“In the more than four years since these recalls, we have gone back to basics at Toyota to put our customers first,” said Christopher Reynolds, chief legal officer of Toyota Motor North America. “We have made fundamental changes across our global operations to become a more responsive company – listening better to our customers’ needs and proactively taking action to serve them.”
“Entering this agreement, while difficult, is a major step toward putting this unfortunate chapter behind us. We remain extremely grateful to our customers who have continued to stand by Toyota. Moving forward, they can be confident that we continue to take our responsibilities to them seriously,” Reynolds said.
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.