Freddie Perez, of Danbury, was driving his 2002 Toyota Tacoma north on Federal Road on Monday night, April 12, taking his son Jonathan, 12, to Taekwondo lessons in Brookfield at around 5:50 p.m., when they both heard a strange noise coming from the engine.
"We could hear something funny," Perez said on Tuesday, "We could hear it was not normal."
Then, the car started accelerating. "It was like somebody was under the hood holding the accelerator down," he said. The vehicle continued to accelerate, but the gas pedal was not stuck down, as has happened in other Toyota models when the mat becomes entangled with the gas pedal, for which there is a recall alert for 2005-2010 Tacomas. Perez said he pumped the gas pedal first, but it wasn't stuck, so he stomped on the brake pedal and pulled the emergency brake.
The car continued to accelerate as the Perezs neared Petco on Federal Road. "I made a decision to get off of the highway, off of Federal Road." Perez made a hard right onto Hardscrabble Road, then a left onto Old State Road. "As soon as I made that right turn the truck went real crazy," he reported, "I made the left on two wheels and couldn't stop when I hit the [two] speed bumps."
As they headed north on Old State Road, they emerged in the Maggie McFly's parking lot, where Perez narrowly avoided hitting a car backing out of a parking space. As he swerved to miss them, the Tacoma launched off the curb, over the grass and back onto Federal Road.
"I saw the traffic coming [south] toward Danbury, so I turned the wheel so the truck would go toward Brookfield" while the vehicle was still in mid-air, causing it to flip upon contact with the road. The truck landed on the driver's side, pointing straight north in the center of the street.
"I was holding onto my son on the chest with my one hand and trying to control the car with the other," Perez said, "Never in my life — I hear about it on the news — I never thought it would happen to me."
Luckily, both were wearing their seat belts. "We never leave this house without our seat belts on," he said, never more convinced of his own policy.
Four bystanders rushed in to help — two who were nearly swiped as the car tore through Maggie McFly's parking lot — getting the passenger-side door open to make sure Freddie and Jonathan were okay. The Brookfield Police and Fire Departments arrived quickly to the scene, first making sure Jonathan was uninjured, then removing the roof of the vehicle with the Jaws of Life to extract his father. Freddie sustained lacerations on his left arm, requiring many stitches, but no further injury other than serious bruising on both his shoulders. He will be undergoing surgery to remove some glass left in his arm later today (Wednesday, April 14).
"They came in 1-2-3," said Perez, surprised by the speed of emergency response personnel, "It almost feels like they were following me there."
The Perez men arrived at Danbury Hospital around 7 p.m. with minor injuries and were home to catch the 11 o'clock news. "I get home and the first thing I hear when I turn on the TV is another problem with Toyota" on the local news, Perez said, so astonished by the irony that he recorded the segment.
A spokesman for Toyota, Safety and Quality Communications Manager Brian Lyons, said on Tuesday that Toyota "fully supports the official investigation," however he added that it was "too early to speculate on what the cause of the accident was." Toyota would examine the vehicle, which is currently in Perez's driveway, in any further investigation or claim.
While 2005 through 2010 model Tacomas are listed in the floor mat entrapment recall, the 2002 Tacoma is not listed under any recall. "It doesn't seem as though the mat got stuck," according to Brookfield Officer Jason Fiege, who is in charge of investigating the incident. "They said they heard an acceleration sound — something mechanical — and it jumped, slowed down, then jumped again," speeding off uncontrollably.
For now, Freddie is just happy he and his son are alive and unharmed. "I just want to thank everybody that was involved," Perez said, thankful a terrifying accident wasn't a tragedy.