Federal inspectors are investigating whether the death of Professor Stephen W. Lagakos last October in a car crash was caused by sudden-acceleration problems attributed to defective Toyota cars.
Lagakos—an international leader in AIDS research and long-time biostatistics professor at the School of Public Health—was killed on impact while driving his 2002 Toyota Highlander sport utility vehicle in Peterborough, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2009.
Witnesses told USA Today that Lagakos had been “driving like a man on fire” shortly before the accident. According to observers, after speeding on Route 202 in order to pass a car, Lagakos’ car swerved into oncoming traffic, hitting a Chevy Malibu driven by Stephen Krause. The collision killed both drivers, as well as two family members traveling with Lagakos, according to a Boston Globe article published Tuesday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Feb. 10 put out a consumer advisory to Toyota customers, which warns of recurring “safety defects” that involve several Toyota vehicle models that are being recalled. Though the 2008-2010 Highlander models are listed in the advisory, the 2002 Highlander that Lagakos was driving at the time of the accident is not on the advisory list and has yet to be recalled.
In a statement published on its website, Toyota Motor Corporation wrote that they sympathize with the “individuals and families involved in any accident involving our vehicles,” adding that the corporation is “making an all-out effort to ensure our vehicles are safe and are making substantial progress towards completing our recalls with effective and durable solutions.”
Investigators have been unable to rule out sudden acceleration as the cause of Lagakos’ crash, Peterborough police Sergeant Michael Chapdelaine told the Globe on Tuesday.
“That’s still looming in the back of my mind—that that could have been a possibility, especially at this stage of the game,” he added.
Victor De Gruttola, chair of the School of Public Health’s biostatistics department, noted that “Toyota has been restrictive” with revealing certain information about the Highlander.
De Gruttola also added that he hopes that Harvard becomes more involved as the investigation continues.
“I knew Steve for 30 years, and I know that he would want an investigation that would find out as much as possible about the causes of this tragedy in hopes of preventing a reoccurrence,” De Gruttola said.
“I would also hope that Harvard would take an active interest in this investigation and how it proceeds.”