For decades, as both a Denver City Council member and then a member of then-Mayor Wellington Webb's administration, Cathy Donohue helped steer the course of Denver. She just never expected to steer into Denver.
But on November 24, 2008, Donohue was behind the wheel when her car crashed into CityGrille, the restaurant at 321 East Colfax Avenue. The car was a Toyoto Rav4.
So far, the 2008 Rav4 isn't part of the massive Toyota recalls, but as reports of problems with many models keep coming out, Donohue told her story to Al Lewis, the former Denver Post columnist who now writes for the Dow Jones Newswires.
Donohue had a perfect driving record the day she was cruising along Colfax, just blocks from the Denver City & County Building where she'd worked for so long, when the gas pedal slammed down, sending her careening into other cars and then the restaurant storefront. "I would challenge any automobile engineer to tell me how a 69-year-old woman with a perfect driving record manages to keep her foot on the accelerator after hitting the first car, then a second car, then a light pole, and then crashing into a building," she told Lewis, who'd earlier suggested that drivers of faulty Toyotas just needed to turn off the car.
But as driver after driver who discovered their Toyotas suddenly accelerating have said -- and as Westword documented in this April 2009 feature -- there's simply no way to stop these cars. Short of a crash.
Donohue, who got an eight-point ticket for "careless driving" (later reduced to three points by a judge), sent a complaint to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in early 2009. The agency wrote back that it hadn't found a defect in the Rav4 "with regard to sudden, unwanted acceleration."
Yet. But Donohue isn't waiting around. She now drives a Subaru.
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