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Runaway Prius hits 90 mph before stopping with aid of CHP

A stuck accelerator takes the Toyota hybrid to 90 mph on Interstate 8 in San Diego County before an officer helps out.

March 09, 2010|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles
  • A Toyota spokesman said that the company, which has recalled millions of vehicles because of reports of unintended acceleration, was sending a representative to investigate the cause of the incident.
A Toyota spokesman said that the company, which has recalled millions of… (John Gibbons / San Diego…)

The driver of a Toyota Prius who called 911 on Monday to report his accelerator was stuck finally got the car stopped after about 20 minutes with the help of the California Highway Patrol, officers said.

"He was reaching speeds over 90 miles per hour," CHP Officer Larry Landeros said of the driver, James Sikes.

A Toyota spokesman said Monday evening that the company, which has recalled millions of vehicles because of reports of unintended acceleration, was sending a representative to investigate the cause of the incident.

The cellphone call came about 1:30 p.m. from the driver of the blue 2008 Prius eastbound on Interstate 8 in San Diego County.

"He was driving near the La Posta Indian Reservation when he called 911 and said his gas pedal was stuck," Landeros said.

"I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car and it did something kind of funny . . . it jumped and it just stuck there," Sikes, 61, said at a news conference. "As it was going, I was trying the brakes . . . it wasn't stopping."

A CHP patrol officer caught up to the Prius about 20 minutes later and used a loudspeaker to tell the driver to apply his emergency brake in tandem with the brake pedal, Landeros said.

Once the Prius' speed dropped to about 50 mph, Sikes turned off the engine and was able to coast to a stop, the officer said.

Landeros didn't know why the driver waited until his speed had dropped to turn off the engine, but the officer speculated that Sikes feared losing the car's power steering.

The officer drove in front of Sikes' Prius to block the car if necessary. But the two cars never touched, Landeros said.

No one was hurt, the CHP said.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, said it would look into the incident.

"We're sending a field technical specialist to San Diego to investigate the car and find out what happened," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said.

"We won't be able to comment on what any possible problems with the car were until we take a look at the car."

Sudden unintended acceleration has allegedly been the cause of 56 fatal accidents involving Toyotas in the U.S., going back as far as 2004.

The Prius that Sikes was driving was one of more than 4 million Toyota vehicles recalled in November because of the reported acceleration problems.

But the company was unsure whether Sikes took his car into a Toyota dealer to comply with the recall, Lyons said.

nathan.olivarezgiles

@latimes.com

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