Guadalupe Gomez was driving his new 2007 Toyota Camry south on interstate 280 in San Jose, California, when his car began accelerating out of control. Racing down the busy highway at speeds of more than 100 mph, Gomez did all he could to avoid a catastrophic collision. He held down on his horn, pushed the ignition button repeatedly, kicked the accelerator, and switched gears — all while dodging traffic. Unfortunately, Gomez’s car didn’t stop until it collided with Troy Edwin Johnson’s Honda Accord. Johnson, a 39-year-old father of 5, burned to death when his car went up in flames.
The accident was so violent and so outwardly reckless that authorities in turn chased after Gomez with accusations of vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence. Prosecutors ultimately believed they couldn’t persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Gomez was responsible for the accident and dropped the charges. But Gomez couldn’t escape a lawsuit naming him and Toyota as defendants filed by Johnson’s family. The case was settled earlier this year for an undisclosed amount of damages.
For over 2 years, Gomez has had to live with the trauma of the crash and the stigma of causing it. Then, on September 29, Toyota issued a safety advisory and recall notice, warning owners of several models of Toyota and Lexus cars that a floor mat defect could interfere with the acceleration pedal and cause the cars to speed uncontrollably.
Investigators found evidence that the floor mat in Gomez’s Camry could have interfered with the accelerator, but in 2007 the unintended acceleration problem was a relatively obscure one to everyone but Toyota.
Now the recall has cast a completely different light on the 2007 incident, and even the attorneys who represented Johnson’s family in court have expressed their sympathy for Gomez.
“This poor man (Gomez) was just driving his car and this happened,” Mohinder Mann, the attorney representing Johnson’s family, told the Mercury News. “He was very honest, he told everybody what happened, but (California Highway Patrol) wanted to blame him.”
Gary Mann, another attorney who represented the Johnson family, said that Gomez was “very remorseful” about the accident. “Toyota was attempting to put some blame on him, but he did everything he could to stop the car and prevent it from crashing,” Mann told the Mercury News.
Gomez, now 70, told the Mercury News that he wanted to keep the incident in the past. “It’s a closed chapter in my life and I would prefer not to go into it,” he told the Mercury News.