Attempts by federal investigators and Toyota technicians to recreate the experience described by a San Diego driver who said his Toyota Prius raced out of control have raised questions about the driver's version of events.
James Sikes said that the accelerator on his 2008 Prius somehow got stuck during the half-hour March 8 incident, and that he could only stop the car, which reached a top speed of 94 mph, by applying the brakes and his emergency brake.
But investigators who test drove the car could not induce sudden acceleration, and said that recreating what Sikes described resulted in the car shutting down, according to a memo drafted by a Congressional observer and provided to ABC News by a source close to the investigation.
"These findings certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events that has been reported by Mr. Sikes," said Kurt Bardella, spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, when contacted about the memo. "Hopefully, Mr. Sikes will be able and willing to help reconcile the gap between what has been said and what the reported empirical data depicts."
In a statement released Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed that its engineers had "recreated the drive Mr. Sikes took" and had "not been able to find anything to explain the incident that Mr. Sikes reported."
However, said the statement, "We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car. It is rare to recreate these unintended acceleration incidents except in floor mat entrapment cases."
James Sikes' attorney, John Gomez, said the tests did not replicate what his client had actually done while driving the car, and did not support the contention of those who believe Sikes faked the incident for profit or publicity.
"There is no reason whatsoever to believe it's a hoax," said Gomez. "And just to be clear, he is not filing a lawsuit, ever. He's not asking for money, ever. So there's no reason for him to make it up."
According to the memo, a Congressional observer was present during the inspection and testing of the car by technicians from Toyota and investigators from NHTSA as of 2 p.m. Wednesday. Some inspection of the car had already been conducted by Toyota and NHTSA. Also present were Prius driver James Sikes and his attorney.
Investigators looked at the floor mat and the pedal. Toyota has issued massive recalls to adjust floor mats and pedals, and its floor mat recal includes the 2008 Prius.
"The investigators placed the floor mat back into the car and tried to make the gas pedal stick to the floor board, manipulating the floor mat to see if it was possible for the gas pedal to stick.," said the memo. "Both Toyota and NHSTA were unsuccessful."
Investigators also inspected the brakes on the vehicle. They found that both the front and rear brake pads were worn down, according to the memo. The front brakes were essentially gone. "After visually inspecting the rear brakes," said the memo, "it appeared that the brakes again were worn down." Sikes had said that he had applied the brakes throughout the incident, and officers from the California Highway Patrol had seen his brake lights on and smelled his brakes burning.
On Thursday, the inspection resumed. After replacing the brake pads and rotors, technicians test drove the vehicle. They also test drove an identical Prius.