Putting Runaway Prius in Neutral Didn't Work: CHP

California Highway Patrol officers tried several solutions while trying to help the driver traveling 90 miles per hour inside a runaway Prius along Interstate 8 near Kitchen Creek Monday.

James Sikes was driving in East County when he had some terrifying moments in his Toyota on Monday.

Sikes said his Prius seemed to be accelerating on its own -- reaching speeds of more than 90 mph on Interstate 8 at one point -- before he called the California Highway Patrol.

CHP dispatcher Leighann Parks said she suggested that Sikes put the car in neutral and turn the ignition off.  Parks said there were times when she could tell Sikes was not talking directly into the phone but rather yelling out callbox numbers. Those numbers helped officers not only locate his car but also determine how fast he was moving.

Parks also suggested to Sikes to hold his ignition key in the off position for more than five seconds and to grab onto the gear shift and force the Prius out of gear but throughout the 911 call released Tuesday, it was unclear if Sikes attempted those suggestions.

A CHP officer located Sikes, then pulled alongside him and instructed him over the patrol car's PA system on how to slow the car down.

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. 

"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."

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.

It turned out Sikes was okay but shaken up by the incident.  "I won't drive that car again, period," Sikes said.

"If I can have a problem, anybody can have a problem," he said.

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.

In a statement issued Monday night, Toyota Safety and Quality Communications said that the company is sending a field technical specialist to investigate the incident and offer assistance.

Problems afflicting the Prius are compounding the woes of Toyota, the world's biggest carmaker, which already has recalled 8.1 million cars worldwide for unintended acceleration issues.

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