Sudden acceleration sends car into house Man's Acura plows through own garage


Jasper R. Clay Jr.'s deck furniture now includes an Acura Legend, the back wall of his garage and a kitchen sink.

Mr. Clay of Columbia's Wilde Lake village plowed through his garage -- which also doubled as a kitchen storage area -- Sunday evening when his 1990 Legend suddenly accelerated as he pulled into his driveway, he said.

He was on his way to the supermarket when he remembered he forgot something in the house and returned home.

"It's one of those freak things," said Mr. Clay, a 62-year-old federal executive. "I don't understand what happened. I've been driving for 45 years."

His car -- with its caved-in windshield and gnarled front bumper -- now sits inches away from the railing of his 2-year-old wooden deck. A sink is lodged under the front of the car, and deck chairs are strewn around the patio.

The garage door was destroyed; the back wall popped out and is propped against the building's frame. The area is roped off with yellow tape that usually surrounds crime scenes.

If Mr. Clay's car had continued through the railing, he would have fallen about four feet down a hill and into a thicket of trees.

"The Lord just stopped the car. I'm just lucky to be alive," he said. "Without a seat belt, I would have gone through the windshield."

Instead, he walked away from his car with a neck sprain, for which he's wearing a brace. After the accident, Mr. Clay was taken to Howard County General Hospital, said Lt. Sean Kelly, a spokesman for county Fire and Rescue Services.

The department responded to the accident to make sure the house and garage didn't sustain structural damage. No serious damage was found.

Mr. Clay's wife, Ossie, 59, had just dialed a friend on the telephone when she heard and felt the impact of her husband's car plunging through the garage.

"It was quite an impact. It jarred me," Mrs. Clay said. "It was a frightening experience."

Before crashing through the garage, Mr. Clay said his car revved like a "jet engine" and the gas pedal felt as if it were stuck.

Complaints about problems from sudden acceleration have been made about every type of car, said Tim Hurd, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), which searches for defects in cars.

After receiving numerous complaints about sudden acceleration, the federal agency conducted a study of most automatic-transmission cars and published a report in 1989. But the NHTSA has not specifically investigated the Acura Legend for the problem, Mr. Hurd said.

The report concluded that drivers usually mistakenly press the accelerator instead of the brake.

Mr. Clay, vice chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission, said he doubts he pressed the gas pedal. "The acceleration just exploded," he said. "It happened so quickly. It took seconds. I could not understand why the car couldn't be controlled."

Skipping work yesterday, Mr. Clay spent much of the day clearing the debris from smashed silverware, holiday dishes and serving trays. His car is to be removed from his deck today.

The Clays renovated their kitchen last year and stored most of their special occasion kitchenware in the garage. "I lost a lot of valuables," Mrs. Clay said.

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