The California Highway Patrol has released the 911 tape of a San Diego driver whose 2008 Toyota Prius began accelerating uncontrollably on Interstate 8 Monday. The 25-minute tape records a dispatcher trying to help James Sikes bring his car under control as it revs over 90 miles per hour – and then the sounds of sirens as a patrol car catches up to Sikes and helps him bring the car to a stop.
Sikes, 61, was driving east on Interstate 8 near Lake Jennings Park Road at 1:30 p.m. when he tried to pass a slower car, according to the California Highway Patrol's account of the incident. Sikes then noticed that the Prius seemed to be accelerating on its own.
Sikes attempted to bring the car under control himself, and then called 911.
The 911 tape starts with the operator asking Sikes if he has an emergency. "My car won't slow down," answers Sikes. After telling the operator where he is and what kind of car he's operating, he again tells the operator, "My accelerator is stuck. Yeah, I pulled it back, I tried pulling it back, pulling it back, but it's stuck."
As Sikes would later explain during a press conference, he held on to his steering wheel and tried to pull the accelerator pedal back with his right hand. "I thought it was maybe stuck," he said. "Somehow the pedal was stuck. But it wasn't stuck on anything that was visible."
The Prius had reached more than 80 miles per hour when the operator told Sikes she was notifying a highway patrol officer. Sikes can then be heard saying, "A truck" and "S__t." Sikes said later that he had to avoid several big rigs during the incident.
The operator asks Sikes to check his floor mats and to try to put the car into neutral, and to press down on the brakes for five seconds. Sikes, who has sounded fairly calm, throughout the incident, starts to moan as various measures fail.
The operator tells Sikes that a chopper is on the way. The call then disconnects, but the operator reaches Sikes again.
The opertor keeps asking him to take the car out of gear, and give his location and his speed. Sikes finally snaps, "I can't hold the g-----n phone" and "Forget the phone." As the speed of the car keeps rising, he is focused on controlling the vehicle. The operator says, "Sir, can you hear me?" and Sikes answers, "The brakes are smelling."
Finally, just before Sikes reports, "I'm going over 90," sirens can be heard in the background. Sikes begins breathing hard, and the operator says, "Sir?," but help has arrived.
A car from the California Highway Patrol caught up to Sikes when he was east of Kitchen Creek Road. Officer Todd Neibert pulled alongside the Prius and began giving Sikes instructions over his public address system.
Said Neibert, "When I saw him, I could smell the brakes."
"I was standing on the brake pedal," said Sikes, "looking out the window at him."
Based on instructions from the police officer, Sikes used his brakes and his emergency brake to slow the car down. Sikes said the car slowed to 55. After several attempts to shut off the car by using the ignition button, he was successful.
Sikes gave a second interview to the media Tuesday, and said the incident was very scary. "You have to be there, you really have to be there," said Sikes. "When you're doing 94 miles per hour and missing curves, it's not a plaything. I was scared to do anything out of the normal."