- Apr 18, 2012
Raw Video: 76-Year-Old Driver Plows Through Grocery Store
Ten people were injured, including a baby
The next second, the whole group vanishes in a cloud of dust and debris. A hail of broken glass, fragments of sheetrock and a single tire track replace the group as a white Toyota Camry streaks across the scene.
Miraculously, none of the shoppers, hurled into floral displays and potato chip displays, were killed when a 76-year-old woman plowed through the entrance of the Publix in Palm Coast, Fla.
Ten people were injured, two seriously, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. It was unknown Wednesday whether any remained hospitalized. An elderly man was pinned beneath the car until fellow shoppers congregated and lifted it off him.
Lasaunda Hampton tells the Daytona News-Journal that her 3-month-old son emerged with only a bump on his head."It was like a little angel was watching over him," she told the newspaper.
On Tuesday, authorities charged Thelma Wagenhoffer with reckless driving.
In January, 2010, Toyota was forced to recall 8 million vehicles because of problems stemming from unintended-acceleration accidents and floor-mat issues. After insisting there was no other problems amid scrutiny from the car-buying public and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company acknowledged that sticky gas pedals had also caused sudden accelerations. During that period, Toyota shut down sales of the Camry and seven other models for several weeks.
But authorities did not believe that was the cause of Wagenhoffer's accident. A FHP spokesperson said an examination of the vehicle revealed no mechanical problems, although they could not immediately say how that determination was reached.
"We don't know what happened," Cpl. Randall Naugher told The Associated Press.
A Toyota spokesman could not be reached at press-time to determine whether the company was investigating the accident. Wagenhoffer's Camry would not have been included in the recall of vehicles with faulty floor-mats known to get caught in the gas pedal of certain Toyotas.
Police believe that Wagenhoffer pressed her foot on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal as she approached a stop sign in the parking lot.
NHTSA officials say that sort of accident is relatively common – in a report released only last week, it said there are an average of 15 pedal misapplication accidents per month.
Women are behind in the wheel in two-thirds of those accidents, according to the findings, and NHTSA said they often occur in commercial parking lots.
"The most consistent finding across data sources was the striking over-representation of females in pedal-misapplication crashes, relative to their involvement in all types of crashes," the report said.
The report also noted that drivers ages 16 to 20 and those 76 or older were more likely to cause pedal-misapplication accidents, saying that "poor executive function" could be responsible.
"The relevant areas of the brain do not fully develop until young adulthood, and have been shown to decline with advanced age," the report said.
Wagenhoffer's age will surely be brought into question. There have been calls in some states to require seniors to get annual or bi-annual written, eye and or driving tests to renew their licenses. But it is a deeply unpopular idea with politicians given the size of the over-65 voting block.
To learn more about automotive safety recalls and how to avoid buying a used car with an open recall affecting its performance and safety, see this related story.