March 9, 2010 — -- James Sikes, whose 2008 Toyota Prius accelerated suddenly on a California interstate Monday, reaching 94 MPH before he was able to bring it under control with the help of the California Highway Patrol, said the cause of the incident was a "stuck" accelerator.
According to Sikes, 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."
Toyota has issued separate recalls to fix floor mats and "sticky" accelerator pedals. The 2008 Prius is covered by the floor mat recall, but not the accelerator recall. It uses a different accelerator pedal than the cars that allegedly have "sticky" pedals.
Sikes said that he also checked his floor mat during the incident, and the mat was "perfect."
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 when he hit speeds over 90 miles per hour. Sikes says his vehicle reached 94 MPH.
A car from the California Highway Patrol caught up to Sikes when he was east of Kitchen Creek Road, meaning that he had traveled more than 20 miles since the incident began. 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.
'I Won't Drive That Car Again'
Neibert pulled his patrol car in front of Sikes on the shoulder of the interstate in case the vehicle began accelerating again.
Sikes reported that there was "nothing wrong with my mat" and that his accelerator pedal "stayed right where it was" when he attempted to pull it up. Sikes also said there were several times when he came close to other vehicles, and that he was also worried about careening off the interstate in the hills east of San Diego.
"I won't drive that car again, period," said Sikes. "Maybe they can find out what's wrong with them now."
He then referenced the sudden acceleration incident that claimed the lives of California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and three members of his family in nearby Santee in August 2009. "That was just right down here," he said, "not too far from me. Obviously, if I can have a problem, anybody can have a problem."
The Saylor incident helped spark national interest in sudden acceleration in Toyotas. Saylor's mother-in-law testified about the crash before the House Oversight Committee's hearing on February 24. Federal investigators have said that floor mats may have contributed to the Saylor accident.
In a statement on Monday's sudden acceleration incident, Toyota said it "had dispatched a field technical specialist to San Diego to investigate the report and offer assistance." READ TOYOTA'S STATEMENT HERE
The 2008 Prius is not covered by a recall for accelerator pedals. Sikes said he had experienced no previous problems with his car, but had received a recall notice for his Prius, presumably for his floor mats, though he did not specify. He said he took the Prius to his local dealer but was turned away. "I gave them my recall notice and they handed it back and said I'm not on the recall list."