Toyota Casts Doubt on "Runaway Prius" Driver's Account - NBC Southern California

Toyota Casts Doubt on "Runaway Prius" Driver's Account

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    Toyota Casts Doubt on "Runaway Prius" Driver's Account
    James Sikes was driving in East County when he had some terrifying moments in his Toyota

    Toyota is casting doubt on a California man's claim that his Prius sped out of control, saying the report is inconsistent with the findings of the company's preliminary investigation.

    The accelerator pedal in James Sikes' car was tested and found to be working normally and a backup safety system worked properly, according to the carmaker.

    Toyota said Monday that the front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating but the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition.

    While officials refused to accuse Sikes of lying, they did say their testing was inconsistent with his statements.

    Sikes said his car raced to 94 mph on Interstate 8 last week. The March 8 incident ended when Sikes stopped the car with help from a California Highway Patrol officer.

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    "While a final report is not yet complete, there are strong indications that the driver's account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis," the statement said. Other details of Toyota's examination of the vehicle were being released at a press conference in San Diego.

    Toyota officials said that, according to the vehicle's onboard diagnostic device, Sikes went back and forth between the accelerator and brakes about 250 times during the incident.

    Earlier in the day, federal regulators said they were reviewing data from the gas-electric hybrid but so far had not found anything to explain the out-of-control acceleration reported by Sikes.

    "We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement.
    Inspectors said they tried to duplicate the acceleration during a two-hour test drive but could not.

    John Gomez, an attorney for Sikes, said the failure to recreate the incident was insignificant and not surprising.

    "They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration. Mr. Sikes never had a problem in the three years he owned this vehicle," he said Sunday.
    But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., suggested the failure to duplicate the stuck accelerator, and the presence of a backup system in the car, raised questions about Sikes' story.
    "It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but let's understand, it doesn't mean it did happen," Issa said on CBS' "The Early Show."
    NHTSA is looking into claims by more than 60 Toyota owners that their vehicles had accelerated unexpectedly even after they were supposedly fixed.
    Regulators said in a statement that Sikes' Prius was equipped with a backup safety device that reduces power to the wheels when the brakes and gas are pressed at the same time.
    "The system on Mr. Sikes' Prius worked during our engineers' test drive," the statement said.
    While investigators from Toyota and NHTSA reviewed the Prius during the same two days, a Transportation Department official said their investigations are separate.
    "It does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically, that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time," said a memo prepared for Congress that cited a Toyota official.

    During the incident, Sikes called 911 operators, which is how CHP finally located him. Officer Todd Neibert told Sikes to try and put the vehicle in neutral and try to shut it off.  Sikes shook his head in response which Neibert took to indicate that that was not successful. The officer was able to drive along the Prius' driver's side. Using the loudspeaker, Neibert instructed Sikes to apply the brake pedal and the emergency brake at the same time.

    Neibert moved his patrol car in front of the Prius and tried to match the speed when he noticed the vehicle slowed down to 50 – 55 mph.

    The Prius finally came to a stop in the number one lane with the engine shut off, Neibert said.

    He placed his patrol car in front of the vehicle in case it tried to take off again. The Prius engine was shut down at that point.

    "He was visibly shaken and seemed to be in shock on an adrenaline rush having to deal with the situation," said Neibert.

    Neibert said he checked the accelerator and brake pedal and they both appeared to be in the normal resting position as if the vehicle was parked. The floor mat, a non-rubber mat, appeared to be in its normal position, he said.

    Neibert said he not only could smell the brakes from the Prius but also witnessed Sikes physically lifting his body to apply pressure on the brakes.

    Skes said he was standing on the brake pedal, trying to slow down. 

    "I was on the brakes pretty healthy," Sikes said. "It wasn't stopping, it wasn't doing anything to it, just kept speeding up, just kept going, and I called 911 right away, and they were trying to tell me what to do, but I couldn't hold the phone and the steering wheel properly at the same time, so I just kept trying my methods, dropped the phone and it just kept going faster. I just stayed on the brakes as much as I could until finally they started smelling really bad and I had metal sounds coming in the car."

    Toyota has recalled millions of cars because floor mats can snag gas pedals or accelerators can stick. Sikes' car was covered by the floor mat recall but not the one for sticky accelerators. He later told reporters that he tried to pull on the gas pedal during his harrowing ride, but it didn't "move at all."