Family Blames Toyota for Fatal Carjacking

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) — An automatic door-unlocking feature in some Toyota SUV’s is to blame for a sexual assault and ensuing car crash that killed a family of four, the assault victim claims in court.
     Area real estate agent Krystal Lin Wang says she was carjacked in Philadelphia on July 25, 2014, just moments after she put her Toyota 4Runner into park on the side of the road and its doors automatically unlocked, allowing convicted assailant Cornelius Crawford to gain unfettered access to her vehicle.
     “After taking control of the vehicle, Crawford forcibly imprisoned Wang, terrorized her and physically and sexually assaulted her,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
     Fearing apprehension by the police after his crimes, Crawford then took the vehicle — with Wang still in it —on a high-speed ride through North Philadelphia, which ended in tragedy when the car went airborne and struck a mother and her three children. The family had been standing on the sidewalk selling produce for a church fundraiser, according to their attorney, Robert Morris of Morris Wilson PC.
     The three children hit by the speeding Toyota died almost instantly upon impact, according to Philadelphia Daily News coverage of subsequent criminal proceedings against Crawford. Their mother, Keisha Williams, reportedly succumbed to her injuries in the hospital a few days later.
     Their deaths created a “devastating” void in their large family, whose surviving members include two siblings who were not present at the accident scene and two fathers who lost their children, Morris said in a telephone interview with Courthouse News.
     “The repercussions in his family have been significant,” Morris said. “[The victims] had bright futures” and were “wonderful young kids, by all accounts,” he said.
     Wang, meanwhile, could only watch helplessly as Crawford reportedly took control of her vehicle and caused the fatal accident.
     Wang claims in Wednesday’s lawsuit that she had no idea her car doors would unlock when she put the vehicle into park. She says Toyota’s failure to inform consumers of such a feature leaves the auto manufacturer liable for selling a “defective [and] unreasonably dangerous” car.
     “The vehicle lacked proper warnings as to the safety and security issues presented to consumers by a locking system that failed to provide security when the transmission selector was moved to ‘park,'” the complaint states.
     Joining Wang as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are estate administrators for family members killed in the crash.
     Morris echoed the complaint’s sentiments in his telephone statements.
     “The risk of having doors that automatically unlock in an urban setting should be obvious to Toyota,” he said.
     The civil complaint seeks unspecified punitive damages against Toyota for strict liability, negligence and wrongful death. The auto manufacturer is liable for breaching its implied warranty of merchantability and for the mental distress its defective lock system caused victims of the carjacking, the lawsuit alleges.
     Crawford is also named as a defendant in the complaint, which seeks compensation for his “willful, wanton, reckless and outrageous” conduct in the July 2014 incident.
     Crawford pleaded guilty to multiple counts of third-degree murder, robbery, carjacking and sexual assault in March, according to a Daily News report, avoiding trial by accepting the prosecution’s deal. He was sentenced to 50 to 100 years in prison and is currently serving the term.
     His accomplice in the carjacking, who was not named in the lawsuit, also entered a guilty plea and is said to be serving time for his charges.
     The minor children who perished in the crash — 15-year-old Keiearra Williams, 10-year-old Thomas Joseph Reed and 7-year-old Terrence Williams — are all represented in the lawsuit by surviving family members, who are suing in the name of the deceased’s estates. The administrator of Keisha Williams’ is estate is also listed as a plaintiff.
     A business communications specialist for Toyota declined to comment on the allegations in a Thursday afternoon email.

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