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  • Chaudhary family

    Mussarat Chaudhary, seen with her husband, Muhammad Chaudhary, drowned March 13 in her 2009 Toyota.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    CHP officers watch near Old River Road as a 2009 Toyota is pulled from the Sacramento River this month. Mussarat Chaudhary, 58, had been driving to West Sacramento from her Cache Creek Casino job when her car ended up in the water.

911 tape captures horror of woman who drove into Sacramento River

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013 - 7:03 am

A 911 recording released Monday captured one woman's final moments of terror and a 911 operator's efforts to get her help as the woman's car sank in the Sacramento River earlier this month.

"She's saying, 'Is someone going to come, or no?' " a Punjabi translator asked the California Highway Patrol's 911 operator as she tried to help a frightened Mussarat Chaudhary convey her emergency.

"Yes," the operator assured the women. "We have somebody on their way out there."

Within minutes, the CHP lost the connection. Later that morning, officials would pull Chaudhary's Toyota Camry out of the Sacramento River with the 58-year-old's body inside.

As the CHP released the recording Monday, an attorney representing Chaudhary's family announced he is investigating whether the 2009 Camry was defective: Before calling 911, Chaudhary reportedly called her daughter to say the brakes weren't working and she was having difficulty controlling her car.

Attorney Chris Wood of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora said the woman's family wants to make sure no one experiences the fear Chaudhary must have felt that March 13 morning.

"It's a complete tragedy. This is a really good family woman – mother, wife, grandmother," Wood said. "The family's having a tough time with it."

The morning of the accident, Chaudhary was heading to her West Sacramento home from Cache Creek Casino, where she had worked almost a decade as a dishwasher.

At some point she called her daughter to say she was having trouble with her brakes, according to Wood and the CHP.

She called 911 at 8:11 a.m. after her car careened off Old River Road and into the Sacramento River.

Wood said that Chaudhary, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1997, spoke English but likely reverted to her native Punjabi in her panicked state.

The 911 operator immediately became aware of the language barrier and sought to get an appropriate translator. As the women waited, the operator struggled to get what information she could from an increasingly hysterical Chaudhary.

"My car – river!" she shouted desperately.

"Your car is in the river?" the call taker asked.

"River, river!"

Within three minutes, a translator was on the line. Sounding distressed herself, she tried to get the 911 operator's questions answered.

"Did she get out of the vehicle?" the operator asked.

"She's saying no because the windows are all closed and she can't get out," the translator said. Later, Chaudhary can be heard pounding on the windows. The translator then sadly reports, "She saying she can't – she tried."

Wood said Chaudhary's family does not place any blame with the call taker or any first responders, who he said did a "great job." Instead, they are focusing on the car.

"If there's a defect in this vehicle – which there's some evidence there is – that's where the issue is," he said. "The CHP and the emergency responders did everything they could do in a very difficult circumstance."

Chaudhary had owned the car for about three months, Wood said.

He noted that there is a pattern of safety issues associated with the 2009 Toyota Camry.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation, that vehicle has been recalled seven times, twice because of problems related to "vehicle speed control."

Twenty-one service bulletins also have been issued for the 2009 Toyota Camry, one of which was related to speed control, according to NHTSA reports online.

Chaudhary's death was investigated by the CHP's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, though the results of that review have not yet been released.

Wood said he has hired a top automotive expert to review the case as well and hopes to have more answers soon for Chaudhary's husband, their seven grown children and their extended family.

"She was the matriarch of the family," Wood said, "really the glue that bound the family together."

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh



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