Two former officials at Mitsubishi Motors pleaded innocent on Thursday to professional negligence in a fatal accident in which a wheel flew off a truck and crushed a pedestrian.


The Associated Press (AP) said Hiroshi Murakawa, 58, a former manager in the quality control section of the Tokyo-based automaker, and Hirotoshi Miki, 56, an employee with Mitsubishi’s truck unit, entered the pleas as their trial opened at Yokohama District Court.


The two are suspected of failing to take proper action although they should have known about the potential dangers of the defective wheel. The defect is suspected in the January 2002 accident, in which Shiho Okamoto, a 29-year-old housewife, was killed when the wheel rolled into her as she was walking down a sidewalk in Yokohama, a port city near Tokyo.


Lawyer Yoshikazu Hinomoto told AP the two had no way of knowing the accident would happen. Unlike corporate executives, they were also not in a position to order recalls or other action that could have prevented the accident, Hinomoto said after the session.


Mitsubishi Motors and its truck unit, which used to be part of the automaker before it was spun off last year, have announced massive recalls for defects not only with the wheel but also the clutch system, doors, engines and other key parts in recent months, AP noted. The admission follows a scandal several years ago when the automaker acknowledged it had an official system to hide auto defects from authorities for decades. Until this year, the automaker had denied any defect in the wheel and blamed poor maintenance.


On Thursday, Mitsubishi Motors president Hideyasu Tagaya reportedly apologised to Okamoto’s family. While acknowledging the charge was serious, he did not comment on the pleas, saying only that he hoped to watch the outcome of the proceedings.


Thursday’s trial is among several pending before the courts in the Mitsubishi scandal, the report noted. Last month, the company and three former executives, including Takashi Usami, former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso and Bus Corp., the truck unit, pleaded innocent to falsifying data in the same accident.


Former Mitsubishi Motors president Katsuhiko Kawasoe is among those facing charges of professional negligence resulting in death in a separate trial set to open soon centred on another fatal accident in 2002, the Associated Press added.