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Toyota Completes Probe Of Crashed N.Y. Prius

Investigators examined vehicle’s ‘trouble codes,’ which would point to malfunctions in the Prius around the time of the crash, and will share results with local police.

HARRISON, New York (AP) -- Investigators from Toyota and the U.S. government inspected a crashed 2005 Prius in a suburb of New York City on Wednesday to see if a black box-like device or its wreckage could point to problems with the brakes or accelerator.

The black box, known as an event data recorder, yielded information on engine speed and pedal position, Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Wade Hoyt said. Investigators worked until just before 6 p.m. and weren't expected to return on Thursday, he said.

Hoyt said that among the last tests they performed Wednesday was measuring the distance between the break pedal and accelerator and the floor of the crashed car "to see if they're still normal."

A housekeeper who was driving the car told police that it sped up on its own as she eased forward down her employer's driveway on March 9 and hit a wall across the street. She was not hurt. Harrison Police Department Capt. Anthony Marraccini said driver error had not been ruled out or indicated.

Hoyt said Wednesday that Toyota will share the results of its investigation with local police. Marraccini said that any definitive information on the cause of the crash will be released to the public after that.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million cars since last fall because their gas pedals could become stuck or be held down by floor mats. The Prius hasn't been recalled for sticky accelerators. However, the wrecked Prius had been repaired for the floor mat problem.

The government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems. Toyota is checking into those complaints as well.

On Wednesday, six Toyota inspectors, two from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other experts huddled around laptop computers as they examined the gray Prius under a tent outside the Harrison police headquarters. The car's front end was smashed in, its hood bent upward; it had a broken bumper and headlight, a flat tire and heavy scratches around its Toyota logo.

"This car was preserved well, and it's the best evidence so far, I believe, that anybody's had an opportunity to evaluate," Marraccini said.

The driver was taken to the police station and interviewed by the NHTSA, Marraccini said.

He said he was given a ride in another Prius driven by someone from NHTSA, who demonstrated how pressure on the vehicle's break overrides even heavy pressure on the accelerator.

"From the ride that I took under extreme conditions, the vehicle performed very well," Marraccini said.

The investigation follows Toyota's probe into the claims of a California driver who said he was unable to stop his runaway Prius on a freeway last week until a state trooper helped him. The company held a news conference Monday and said the driver's account was substantially different from its findings.

NHTSA officials at the investigation site did not make themselves available to reporters.

Investigators are hoping the vehicle's event data recorder sheds more light on what led to the accident. Similar to airplane black boxes, event data recorders catalog various information about a vehicle around the time of a crash, such as its speed, engine throttle and whether the gas or brake pedals were depressed.

Some event data recorders are capable of recording data several seconds before and after an accident. However, the current Prius is an earlier model and its data recorder only records information at the moment of impact, Hoyt said.

Hoyt also said Toyota investigators were examining the vehicle's "trouble codes," which would point to malfunctions in the Prius around the time of the crash.

He said the Prius comes with a backup safety system for the brakes. The car's engine idles if a driver hits the accelerator and brake at the same time. "If that's all working, it should be impossible, really, for the car to take off on its own."

Dealers and experts have had trouble recreating episodes of sudden acceleration, and Toyota says tests have failed to find other problems beyond the sticking gas pedals and floor mats.

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