Runaway Prius May Stay a Mystery: NHTSA

"It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but let's understand, it doesn't mean it did happen," Issa said.

Toyota Motor Corp. planned to announce preliminary findings of its investigation into a customer's report of a runaway Prius at a news conference Monday in San Diego.

Meanwhile, a federal investigation has cast doubt upon the owner's version of events.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement that it continues to investigate but "we may never know exactly what happened with this car."

The agency said its engineers are reviewing data from the Prius owned by James Sikes to try to understand what happened with his hybrid. But so far, NHTSA says it has not been able to find anything to explain the incident that Sikes reported.

James Sikes called 911on March 8 saying his Toyota Prius was accelerating out of control on Interstate 8 and going 94 mph. 

Investigators drove the car for two hours but could not duplicate the experience that James Sikes said he had on Monday, according to Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Congressman Darrell Issa's office. Issa is on the House Oversight Committee that is looking into the incident. "There was no way logistically that it could happen," said Bardella.

John Gomez, an attorney for Sikes said the failure to repeat the incident is 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.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa said the failure to duplicate the stuck accelerator, along with a vehicle design to prevent such occurrences, raises 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' "Early Show."

A California Highway Patrol officer drove alongside the hybrid car and directed Sikes on how to control the car. After applying the emergency brake and the brake pedal at the same time, Sikes said the car slowed down, according to officers.

CHP 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.

Officer 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.

Sentiment has been growing doubting the man's story. The Wall Street Journal reported that the brakes on Sikes' Prius did not show the wear consistent with his story. 

Commentator and attorney Michael Fumento said Sikes' story has many holes, beginning with the gas pedal. 

"He said it was fully depressed.  He couldn't yank it back, and yet when the police officer looked, it was in the normal undepressed position," he said.  Fumento also questions Sikes' reasons for not shifting the car into neutral.

Fumento said Sikes gave multiple reasons for not switching to neutral such as fearing the car would flip or being unfamiliar with the car that he owned for two years.  Fumento also refused to believe Sikes' when he wanted to keep both hands on the wheel. "This is a guy that for most of the ride had one hand on the wheel and the other hand holding a cell phone," said Fumento.

"I was on the brakes pretty healthy," Sikes said the day of the incident. "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."

Sikes said the CHP officer arrived shortly afterward and told him to use the emergency brake. He also tried to shut off the car, which it finally did, then he rolled to a stop near the La Posta Bridge in the area of the Golden Acorn Casino.

He said he had visited Toyota of El Cajon to get the vehicle serviced and to take care of a recall notice on the acceleration. He said that the dealership told him that his was not a model covered by the recall and he was turned away.

Listen to Sikes' 911 call to CHP.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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