By Mark Kleis
Tuesday, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 12:25 am
 
The California Highway Patrol has confirmed its officers helped bring to a stop a runaway Toyota Prius exhibiting unintended acceleration Monday afternoon. The incident took place around 2:00 p.m., a CHP spokesman told Leftlane.



Law enforcement involvement in the near-catastrophe began when a driver reported to the CHP that his blue Toyota Prius was accelerating uncontrollably and he was unable to turn off the vehicle or shift into neutral. The driver reportedly traveled at speeds over 90 miles per hour while covering approximately 30 miles, according to new details.

At 2:03 p.m., PST, CHP reported a blue Toyota Prius traveling east-bound on the 8 freeway in San Diego while passing Los Coches road. The driver continued at full-throttle for approximately 30 miles up into the mountains leading out to El Centro, and away from the city's center. This incident began roughly 5 miles from the tragic accident involving a Lexus ES350 with a stuck accelerator that claimed the lives of CHP officer Mark Saylor and three of his family members late last year.

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San Diego local news station CW 6 reported that radio traffic acknowledged the driver was unable to turn the engine off or shift the vehicle into neutral. CHP reportedly considered utilizing a spike strip in order to stop the vehicle, but decided not to in the event that it could cause the driver to further lose control of the vehicle due to the high rate of speed.

The driver of the Prius said during an interview with NBC San Diego that he was traveling on the 8 East freeway when the vehicle seemed to begin accelerating on its own - reaching speeds over 90 mph. The driver, James Sikes, 61, said he called 911 and tried to drive while holding the phone but it was too difficult, forcing him to drop the phone and attempt to regain control of the vehicle by his own methods.

A CHP officer eventually caught up to Sikes and using his loudspeaker directed Sikes to utilize the parking brake in combination with the normal brake and eventually got the vehicle under control, and turned off. When the vehicles finally came to a stop the Prius was apparently traveling up a steep grade, which a CHP officer believed aided in the vehicle coming to a stop.

"They also got it going on a steep upgrade," said Officer Jesse Udovich. "Between those three things, they got it to slow down."

"I was on the brakes pretty healthy," Sikes said. "It wasn't stopping, it wasn't doing anything to it, and just kept speeding up, 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."

Leftlane spoke with CHP officer Brian Pennings who confirmed the early report. Early reports incorrectly suggested the CHP used a Crown Victoria patrol car to pull in front of the Prius and brake to a stop - but new details suggest the contact was only made once the Prius was at a halt.

"The vehicles did not touch until after they came to a stop," Pennings said.

Sikes also told reporters that he had visited Toyota of El Cajon - a nearby dealership - but was told his vehicle was not included in the recent recalls and no services were performed.

No one was injured, and Toyota says it has already dispatched investigators to examine the vehicle.

Attached is a map that indicates the reported route traveled by the vehicle.


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References
1. 'San Diego Communications...' view
2. 'Car with reported stuck...' view
3. 'Runaway Prius owner says...' view
4. 'NBC Nightly News...' view
5. 'Prius with stuck acceler...' view