Toyota CEO Apologizes for Recall, Accidents

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WASHINGTON - After a harrowing day of testimony, Toyota is facing more criticism on Capitol Hill Wednesday over its handling of its safety problems.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said he is deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.

"We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization," Toyoda said in testimony prepared for delivery Wednesday. "I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced."

But the question at the hearings is if Toyota has flaws it's not facing up to yet and whether it's been covering them up for years.

Damning Testimony

In emotional testimony before Congress Tuesday, Toyota owner Rhonda Smith recalled how her Lexus suddenly accelerated up to a hundred miles an hour for some six miles.

"I prayed for God to help me," she said. "I called my husband on the blue tooth phone system. I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time. "

Smith says the only thing that saved her is God intervened after she'd tried everything to slow the car.

Toyota has been blaming floor mats and sticky pedals for its acceleration problems, but some claim it's the vehicles' electronics. It's a charge technology professor Dave Gilbert felt he proved in his own tests making Toyotas suddenly accelerate.

"This is why I am dead serious about this. This is something that should not be able to happen. Absolutely should not," Gilbert stated.

But Toyota's North American head Jim Lentz said, "I'm confident there are no electronic problems."

His claim is now earning him lawmakers' suspicions.

"I'm not confident that you're looking for something that you don't think exists," charged Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas chimed in, "You could probably solve this problem if you really try to."

Lentz, however, took exception to the lawmakers' accusations saying, "We welcome anyone that can find any issue with our electronics."

Toyota Dealers: No Fair!

Meanwhile, Toyota dealers are claiming Toyota is being unfairly singled out.

Dealer Tammy Darvish pointed out at a Washington news conference that the Big Three American automakers have had 141 recalls in the last 12 months.

"You would think from some of the reports you read that 'recall' is something brand new in industry. And it's not," Darvish said. "For Toyota, of course, it is. It's the first involuntary recall they've had in 52 years."

And Toyota dealer Paul Atkinson wondered about a government conspiracy, saying that since the federal government now has partial ownership of GM and Chrysler, it has a motive for trying to push Americans away from buying Toyotas with tactics like frightening hearings.

"Now I find out that my government takes part of my taxes that I pay to them and are now giving some of those tax dollars to my fellow American citizens encouraging them to not do business with Toyota," Atkins said. "So I ask you what's wrong with that picture."

Accident Victims: Save the Excuses

But for the families of those killed in crashes involving Toyotas and those who've nearly been killed by sudden acceleration incidents, they just want Toyota to be honest and to fix its flaw once and for all.

Smith said she wants to make sure no one ever again faces the kind of crisis she did in her Toyota.

"I knew in my heart that I was going to die, because I had already looked at the guardrail and the trees where I was going to have to put my car so I wouldn't have to kill other people," Smith recalled.

Meanwhile, the heads of government agencies are also on the hot seat over the Toyota crisis.

They have to deal with doubts they did all they could to get Toyota to deal seriously with the flaws that have led to recalls of 8.5 million of its vehicles.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.