This week, the Blotter is reprising 10 different Ross Unit investigations that made a difference in 2010. Today: An expose of sex abuse spurs reform of swimming's national governing body, and a report leads to a government investigation of Toyota and a major fine.
The Coach's Secret
An ABC News Investigative Team uncovered a shocking pattern of sexual misconduct by swim coaches with their vulnerable young female swimmers – as well as a questionable response by the sport's national governing body, which critics said looked the other way.
The ongoing "Coach's Secret" investigation, which began with a two-part "20/20" report April 9, 2010, revealed that one swim coach, Andy King, had been able to move from town to town, even after complaints against him and police investigations. King, 62, was able to abuse his swimmers over three decades up and down the West Coast, involving more than a dozen teen female victims.
Despite numerous sexual misconduct allegations against King and a 2008 police investigation, USA Swimming gave him a clean bill of health. Less than one year later, he was abusing another teen girl in a shed during swim practices in San Jose, California. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison in January. Since the investigation, internal documents were released showing that USA Swimming received at least two abuse complaints against King.
Other swim coaches abused swim meets and secretly taped young athletes changing in the locker rooms, only to be quietly banned.
Impact: Immediately after the report aired, USA Swimming announced it would pursue an investigation into specific sexual abuse allegations involving a swimmer profiled in the story. The coach was suspended indefinitely pending an ongoing investigation.
Two days after the story aired, USA Swimming apologized in a letter to its hundreds of thousands of swimmers, parents and coaches across the country and pledged to implement child protection safeguards. The organization promised to create an anonymous reporting hotline "so that victims who may be frightened can report any sexual abuse and have this information replayed to police," and announced it would publish a "Black List" to identify individuals who had been banned by USA Swimming.
This list was published May 26 and included Everett Uchiyama, the director of the U.S. national team from 2002 until his suspension in Jan. 2006 for admitting to a sexual relationship with a female swimmer he coached. At the time, Uchiyama was working as an aquatics director at a country club less than five miles from USA Swimming's headquarters in Colorado Springs. Documents showed a high-ranking USA Swimming official recommended Uchiyama for the job despite the sexual misconduct with a swimmer. The country club announced Uchiyama's immediate departure and said USA Swimming told them nothing about his past, except for giving him a positive reference.
USA Swimming has implemented a "7-Point Action Plan," which includes an athlete protection committee. The group has partnered with the Child Welfare League of America and is set to launch its new background check program on Jan. 10, 2011.
The U.S. Olympic Committee also convened a 10-person task force to address the issue of sexual and physical abuse of youth athletes by coaches, in response to the scandal at USA Swimming. On Sept. 28, the USOC announced it was centralizing and standardizing background checks across all Olympic sports, affecting approximately one million athletes.
Since the investigation, more victims have come forward to tell their stories, and at least two additional former USA Swimming coaches have pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct charges with young swimmers.
"The Coach's Secret" was awarded a 2011 duPont Award for its far-reaching impact.
Government Fines Toyota Over Steering Rod Recall After ABC News Report
When Toyota recalled 330,000 trucks and SUVs in Japan in 2004 to replace steering rods that were prone to breaking under stress, a Toyota official told U.S. regulators that there had been no reports of such problems in the U.S. and thus need to recall similar American Toyotas. Less than a year later, Toyta issued a recall of nearly 1 million U.S. trucks and SUVs to fix the same steering rod defect. But the reversal may have come too late for an 18-year-old high school football player.
In 2007, Levi Stewart died when his Toyota truck crashed near Fairfield, Idaho. Three months after Levi's death, a long-delayed recall notice from Toyota arrived in the mail at the Stewart home. In the worst case, the notice said, the steering relay rod might fracture, causing a loss of vehicle steering control and thus increasing the possibility of a crash.
Levi's father was shocked when he read the notice. "That immediately explained how the wreck happened," said Michael Stewart. "I was just shocked. How could they wait so long to send out a recall on something so important?"
The Stewarts sued Toyota, and during discovery in the case, Toyota turned over 40 previously undisclosed cases where American owners had complained directly to Toyota about steering rod problems before October 2004, when Toyota issued its Japanese steering rod. In a deposition for the Stewart court case, the same Toyota official who had said in 2005 that there was no need to recall U.S. vehicles said under oath that the U.S. complaint information was kept from him by company executives in Japan.
Impact: After learning of the additional cases via ABC News, NHTSA initiated an investigation of Toyota's steering rod recall. In December, NHTSA announced that it was fining the automaker $16 million, the maximum allowed under the law, because it had found that Toyota improperly delayed its recall. Toyota has also confirmed that it is the subject of a criminal investigation by a federal grand jury in New York, which has subpoenaed documents about possible steering rod defects. The Stewart family's civil suit against Toyota is still pending.