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Accidents involving Jeeps are, unfortunately, nothing new to the carwashing industry. We have been reporting on these accidents — in which Jeeps, or Toyotas, suddenly accelerate while exiting or entering a carwash tunnel — for years. An incident last December led to the death of a carwash worker at Flagship Carwash in Rockville, MD. A Jeep® suddenly accelerated while the driver was exiting the tunnel, and it struck two employees who were drying off a car. The vehicle then went across the street, dragging the two employees before hitting a telephone pole. Gavino Euseda, 48, was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries. Another employee was taken to the hospital with critical injuries.
A report by Bloomberg News last year highlighted instances of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) at carwashes, specifically incidents involving Jeep® vehicles, and revealed some adverse reactions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which has received 15,174 grievances related to SUA in the last 30 years. Amongst those complaints were 110 fatalities, 59 of which were attributed to Toyota vehicles. Another 56 models were involved in the remaining deaths, and Chrysler Jeep® Grand Cherokee is among the models generating multiple complaints for taking off at carwashes and service stations.
And now, another carwash owner has come forward, speaking exclusively to PC&D about a Jeep®-related accident that occurred at his carwash. Jeremy S. Lezin, owner of Cruz Car Wash in California, is sharing his story with others, to help them learn more about this very prevalent and fateful re-occurring topic and offer up advice about what to do if a Jeep® pulls into their carwash.
Debra Gorgos: Please tell us about the incident involving the car accident at your carwash?
Jeremy S. Lezin: On the day of the accident, my manager, Tony, was driving cars off of the line. He started a 1999 Jeep®, put it into gear and suddenly the engine raced and the car took off at high speed. Tony stomped on the brakes and threaded his way through our property, narrowly avoiding employees and most customer cars until he had almost reached the limits of our property and slammed into a 2006 GMC Sierra. He left a trail of bumpers and shattered plastic across four lanes of busy traffic (miraculously hitting no one). All of this happened so quickly that he hadn’t had time to look down for the key. Reaching the Best Buy/Safeway lot across the street, he reached down and turned off the Jeep®. He had enough momentum to carry him across the entire lot, where the Jeep® came to rest. We have video of the episode and it still is traumatic to watch.
DG: How was the driver able to stop the car?
JSL: Only by turning off the key. The brakes were of absolutely no use and this was verified later by a California Highway Patrolman (CHP) who tested the brakes that same day. (Incidentally, when we pointed this out later to our insurance company, they said, “the CHP is not qualified to render this opinion. Only our inspector can make that judgment.” And of course, when they sent their inspector weeks later, he said the brakes were fully functional.)
DG: Did you know anything about similar “sudden unintended acceleration” incidents that have happened at other carwashes?
JSL: I didn’t then, but I do now. This was our first exposure to the problem. As I researched this on the Internet, I realized that this was more than just a coincidence. And it wasn’t a case of a “loose floor mat,” or “stepping on the accelerator and the brake at the same time.” I read horror stories about people being run over, pinned against buildings … nasty. When I pointed these stories out to my insurance company, their reaction was, “unless Chrysler has lost a lawsuit because of this issue, the Internet stories are just part of a blog.”
DG: Did your carwash have to close down at all due to the accident?
JSL: No, we kept operating.
DG: How much damage was done to the car and property?
JSL: The Jeep® was totaled. The Sierra was repaired at a body shop at a cost of $6,000. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
DG: What are you doing now when a Jeep® comes onto your property for a wash?
JSL: We’ve had two company-wide safety meetings focused on the Jeep®. We tell every employee to keep their hand on the ignition key and honk the horn, to warn others.
DG: What advice do you have for other carwash owners/operators about Jeeps®?
JSL: Treat the Jeep® as a potential disaster. We still wash them, but we always clear the area of employees and stay attentive, knowing that it can become possessed faster than you can say the word “Jeep®.”