Clem’s Chronicles: Toyota accelerator mystery/BPA/North Dakota Students found dead

By Clem Lane

Nov 3, 2009 9:29pm

very busy night for news folks. i am publishing this long before all the 2009 election results are in. Please check back with ABC NEWS.COM for political updates throughout the night and tomorrow.

TOYOTA ACCELERATOR PROBLEMS-You’ve heard about this story. Floor mats in Toyotas getting caught and holding down the gas pedal. Sounds like a pretty simple fix. But Brian Ross looked into the story and found what he referred to on WORLD NEWS as a “kind of Toyota owners’ rebellion over what the company and the federal government say is the cause of an estimated 2000 runaway cars.” Ross explains: “The company ordered a huge floor mat recall and the federal government urged consumers to follow Toyota’s directions…but across the country some owners…say floor mats can’t be the only cause of the problem.” And it looks like the federal government may not be 100% convinced themselves. In a statement this afternoon, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety Administration said, "This matter is not closed until Toyota has effectively addressed the vehicle defect by providing a suitable remedy." 
But let’s get back to those Toyota owners. Ross introduced us to Paul and Saskia McLean of California and relates “the McLeans were driving in the Mojave Desert when their Toyota Highlander shot up to 100 miles an hour. Their car did not have the recalled floor mats.” Also, the McLeans assured Ross there was nothing underneath the gas pedal. The McLeans’ story is not unique. Ross says “some owners are now suing Toyota, claiming there must be a glitch of some kind in the basic electronic computer system that controls the throttle.” While federal investigators have been unable to pinpoint any glitch, Ross reports that “the number of accidents blamed by drivers on speed surges shot up after the electronic system was put into use in 2002, according to safety analyst Sean Kane.” Toyota’s reaction? They wouldn’t talk to ABC NEWS, but posted a statement on-line discounting any electronic glitch.
So no definitive answers as to a cause. Ross notes in his close that “today federal safety officials said Toyota was wrong to suggest its cars have been given a clean bill of health by the government. So the investigation of this mystery continues.”

MISSING NORTH DAKOTA COLLEGE STUDENTS FOUND DEAD-Dickinson, North Dakota police announced tonight that the three female Dickinson State college softball players were found dead in their vehicle. In a statement released to the media, Dickinson, North Dakota police said “Approximately 2:45PM Mountain time searchers notified members of law enforcement that vehicle tracks were found leading into a pond with oil residue floating on the surface.   The dive team investigated and a vehicle was located in the pond at approximately 4:25 Mountain time.    The 1997 White Cherokee was pulled from the pond.  The three women they had been searching for were located in the vehicle and were deceased.    Foul play is not suspected.” Foul play may not be suspected but nothing’s ruled out. Police said tonight that they are “still investigating” their deaths. 

2009 ELECTIONS-Election Day 2009 is not chock a block with nationally compelling races…but there are a handful that ABC NEWS is following. Those races are governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, an upstate New York congressional race and mayoral races in Houston, Atlanta and New York. At this point, ABC NEWS has projected just one outcome-Republican Bob McDonnell to win the Virginia governorship. What if any national significance do these races hold? It depends who you’re asking. Jake Tapper, filing for WORLD NEWS, tells us that “White House officials argue this is in no way a referendum on President Obama. These are local races. But Republicans, perhaps smelling some victories tonight point out, today is the first opportunity voters have to register their feelings about President Obama and the Democratic Congress.” Should other contests besides Virginia go the Republican way, those results will likely give the GOP reason to believe that there will be bigger victories in the 2010 midterm elections. (thanks to George Sanchez for his help on this entry)

BPA IN YOUR SUPERMARKET-Consumer Reports tells us there’s levels of BPA in our foods. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but Lisa Stark, can you tell me what BPA is please? Stark: “BPA is a chemical that has long been used in everything from baby bottles to the lining of canned goods. Some studies have linked BPA exposure to reproductive problems, and increased risk of cancer and diabetes.” Okay…BPA might be B-A-D. And Stark told us on WORLD NEWS, there’s a fair bit of it in the items on our grocery store shelves. Stark: “Consumers Union found the highest levels of BPA in canned goods-Del Monte Fresh Green Beans and Progresso Vegetable Soup.” Big deal? Consumer Reports thinks it is-Dr. Urvashi Rangan told Stark that “one serving for a small child of those green beans would actually cause that child to ingest a dose close to the level that already causes harm in animal studies.” Yikes-and you can’t even be sure if BPA is in the product or not. Stark says that “the test even found the chemical in canned Vital Choice tuna marketed as BPA-free-the company says it is ‘dismayed and determined to find the source of the problem.” But not all grocery companies feel that BPA is bad-Stark says that “reacting to the report, Del Monte is quoted as saying BPA ‘is the best method available’ for food preservation.” There certainly does seems to be differing opinions on the safety of BPA-Stark notes that “government scientists have studied BPA and there is disagreement about whether or not low levels of exposure are dangerous.” Consumer concern seems to be enough for some manufacturers-Stark says that “the leading baby bottle manufacturers will now make bottles without the chemical.” For those looking for some closure (and hey who isn’t) on BPA’s safety, Stark adds that “the Food and Drug Administration is doing its’ final review of the chemical…with results expected at the end of the month.”
 
BUFFET PURCHASES BURLINGTON NORTHERN:  Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaways purchased railroad Burlington Northern in a deal valuing the nation’s largest shipper of goods at $34 billion.  Over the summer, Buffett told Bianna Golodryga that he gauged the economy’s progress by looking at the railroad: “Rail car holdings are important….that is telling you what is coming into this country, going out and so on.” In a statement to ABC News, Buffet said the purchase was “an all-in bet on the future of the United States.  There is no way you can move a railroad to Asia.  I have no notion what the next quarter or next year will bring, but I’m 100 % confident in the economic future of the United States five, ten and 100 years down the road.” 
“Buffett isn’t the only famous business figure to follow less ‘run of the mill’ indicators.  Former Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan focuses on scrap steel prices.  Jack Welch, the legendary former GE CEO famously stated that he tracked light bulb sales.  If customers bought more bulbs in bulk, the economy was doing well.  If they bought more individual bulbs, then he was worried,” Bianna Golodryga reported on WORLD NEWS.
“Many of those indicators, including scrap steel prices, including commodity prices more generally, all tell us that the recession has come to an end,” economist John Ryding told ABC News. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

CLEVELAND MURDERS-Convicted rapist Anthony Sowell was charged this afternoon with 5 counts of aggravated murder, along with charges of rape, felonious assault and kidnapping. Police recovered the bodies of six women from the home last week, and at a press conference late this afternoon, police officials said “what appears to be four more bodies” were removed today. The bodies were removed after investigators excavated the yard of the home where Sowell lives. Sowell is arraigned tomorrow morning at 8:30am ET-there is a camera in the court.
Rich Esposito provides the following details on this case which Pierre Thomas notes “comports with what he is hearing”:
“All ten corpses African American females, adults, badly decomposed bodies, in bags.
Time line of investigation currently starts w his release from prison in 2005
Searches have so far yielded no records kept by the suspect.  No video. These sorts of materials can be a part of a serial killer's MO.
Investigators have spoken with the suspect a number of times. He has "led them down" a number of paths.
But so far, nothing approaching admissions.
The victims are all believed to be Cleveland residents, and possibly neighborhood residents.
The majority of the forensic probe, due to the condition of the corpses, is now with the coroner.
Police are culling missing persons reports.
A number of persons have come forward and expressed concerns about persons they know or knew who may have disappeared.”

T-MOBILE OUTAGE:  For the second time in less than a month, thousands of T-Mobile users are experiencing problems with the cell service provider.  In a statement, T-Mobile said today some of its users are “experiencing intermittent service disruptions impacting voice and some data services.” T-Mobile users with ABC News report they are able to call outside of their network, but are unable to receive calls or contact other T-Mobile users.  Today’s outage comes just weeks after thousands of T-Mobile’s Sidekick users lost data and contact information from their devices, resulting in the service provider offering customer refunds. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

HEALTH CARE REFORM/GET YOUR 2010 CALENDARS OUT-From Jon Karl: “Just last week, President Barack Obama declared he is ‘absolutely confident’ he’ll be able to sign a health care reform bill by the end of the year, but senior Congressional Democrats now tell ABC News that is highly unlikely. ‘Getting this done by the by the end of the year is a no-go,’ a senior Democratic leadership aide told ABC News.  Two other key Congressional Democrats told us the same thing.”

AUTO SALES-We got our October auto sales figures today. Dan Arnall reports: “With the major auto brands posting October sales results today, there are new signs that the U.S. economy is starting to stabilize. Ford’s chief economist Emily Kolinski Morris said it best on a conference call with reporters: ‘The economy is in transition from recession to recovery.’
Overall auto sales were flat in October – 838,000 cars sold this year; same as last year. But several of the big names posted sales gains as consumers got over the cash for clunkers hangover which made September’s results a bloodbath. It ended up pointing to a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales at 10.46 million units – well above the 9.22 million unit SAAR from September and in line with analyst expectations.
General Motors (+4.7%) reported its first year-over-year sales gains in almost two years during October.
Ford (+3.3%) followed suit with sales of fuel efficient 2010 models selling well.
Chrysler (-30.4%) was a stand-out laggard because the models they are offering are not resonating with customers. They’ll roll out a new product strategy in an all-day session in Detroit tomorrow thanks to their new partnership with Fiat.
Asian brands Toyota (+0.0%) and Honda (-0.4%) held steady during the month”

OTHER STUFF-
KARZAI PROMISES “CLEAN GOVERNMENT”- In his first speech since being declared the winner of a second presidential term, Afghan president Hamid Karzai promised to tackle the corruption that has come to define his government in the eyes of many Afghans. Karzai did not offer specific measures to fight fraud. He was flanked at the podium his running mate and former defense minister Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, who himself is accused of trafficking drugs. Asked if he would fire ministers suspected of corruption, Karzai said the problems cannot be solved solely by changing personnel. (Jim Sciutto)
OSCARS HOSTS ANNOUNCED-Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will be co-hosts for the 82nd Academy Awards show it was announced today. (Dave Alpert)

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