Kevin Haggerty, a 45-year-old salesman from Pittstown, New Jersey, has seen plenty of car wrecks in his other job, a volunteer firefighter. When he went shopping for a car, he decided he wanted something safe and reliable, something that would protect his wife and two daughters, and that's what he thought he'd gotten when he purchased a new 2007 Toyota Avalon sedan.
But in mid-2009, he says he started having trouble with occasional episodes of random acceleration. Haggerty says his Toyota would start revving and picking up speed and he'd have to stand on the brakes to slow it down. And then, three days after Christmas, there was an episode that would have resulted in a high-speed collision on Interstate 78, and perhaps fatalities – had not Haggerty used what he'd learned from ABC News to bring his runaway Toyota under control before it crashed.
Haggerty says problems with his Toyota Avalon started in the middle of last year. Haggerty would be driving through his hometown at 25 miles an hour and the car would begin accelerating. He took the car to his Toyota dealership in November after a couple of incidents. The mechanics there said they didn't know what was causing it.
"They went through the car thoroughly and did all the diagnostic tests," said Haggerty, "and they couldn't determine why it was happening."
Three days after Christmas, on Monday morning, December 28, Haggerty was traveling east on Interstate 78, headed to work, when he says the car started accelerating again. Soon the car had revved itself up to 65 miles per hour. Haggerty remembered the video.
"I had my foot on the brake," recalled Haggerty. The more he pressed the brake, the more the car accelerated. "It seemed like the accelerator was overpowering the brake."
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As Haggerty started to panic, he thought back to the video he'd watched. "I could see why some people would want to keep hitting the brake, keep pumping the brake rather than go into neutral. But I remembered the safest thing to do is to go into neutral and control the car, and that' s what I did."
After getting the car under control, Haggerty called the dealership on his cellphone. He realized he was close to the interstate exit that would take him to dealership. They had told him they had never witnessed the acceleration first-hand -- now he was going to show them.
"I called the service manager," said Haggerty. "I told him I'm having the problem right now." They told him to bring the car in.
The car kept trying to accelerate, but switching from neutral to drive and back again as needed allowed Haggerty to steer the car onto an off ramp and the three miles to the dealership.
When he reached the dealership, the brakes and the tires were smoking. Haggerty put the car in neutral. The engine was still revving.
The first thing the service manager did, said Haggerty, was check the floor mat. The mat was still in place, attached to the floor with factory-installed brackets. "He even confirmed to me," said Haggerty, "that it's not the floor mat that's the problem. It was accelerating and he witnessed it. He sat in the seat and he witnessed it accelerate."
The service manager called a Toyota representative. According to Haggerty, the Toyota representative told the service manager to replace the gas pedal and the throttle and their sensors.
Haggerty has not had another incident of random acceleration since the parts were replaced. He feels fortunate that he was alone in the car on December 28.
"After I got out of the car at the dealership, the first thing I thought about was my family," said Haggerty. "And if they were in the car, if my wife was driving – you know, I'm not sure if she would have panicked and kept hitting the brake pedal and known enough to put it into neutral. That flashed through my mind, you know. If my wife and kids were in the car."
On Thursday, Toyota announced a recall of 2.3 million vehicles to fix sticky accelerator pedals. The company said the recall would cover Haggerty's Avalon. Haggery, however, says he does not have a sticky gas pedal.
Last fall Toyota recalled 4.2 million vehicles, saying that fixing floor mats and altering gas pedals would address random acceleration.