In an exclusive interview with East County Magazine, driver says Toyota advised him 2 weeks ago that his 2008 Prius was not on the recall list
March 8, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – James Sikes, 61, considers himself lucky to be alive following a harrowing high-speed ordeal on a highway in San Diego's East County.
“I am still shaken up,” the local real estate agent told East County Magazine this evening, just hours after surviving a chilling 94-mph race against time after the accelerator on his car became jammed on I-8 east this afternoon. It took over half an hour to bring the runaway vehicle under control with help from California Highway Patrol, including a patrolman who bravely placed his car in front of Sikes to assure that the vehicle could be stopped before entering a perilous downhill stretch of freeway.
“If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” said Sikes. “I went to El Cajon Toyota about two weeks ago and I took a recall notice…They just looked on the computer and said `You’re not part of the recall.’” The local dealer did not examine the car’s accelerator pedal, he said.
Sikes’ ordeal began around 1:30 p.m. as Sikes, a real estate agent, was driving eastbound on I-8 towards his home in Jacumba. As he accelerated to pass a slower-moving vehicle near Lake Jennings Park Road, he noticed that the vehicle seemed to be accelerating on its own, according to a CHP press release.
“I tried the brakes obviously, but that wasn’t working at all,” Sikes said. “I actually reached down and was pulling at the gas pedal thinking it was stuck, but it didn’t do anything.” He said the floor mat was in place, had not moved, and was not trapped beneath the accelerator.
“At that point I was coming into a lot of traffic,” said Sikes. “I called 911. I almost hit a truck; that was near Alpine. I started losing it a little bit – I had no control. I dropped the phone a couple of times.”
Asked if he tried shifting into neutral, he said he did not initially because he was afraid he would be hit by another vehicle if his car halted too suddenly. “There were cars all around me. They were passing me left and right…They kept someone on the line but I couldn’t hold onto the phone. I kept yelling so they would know where I was. Then I finally saw a CHP car.”
The CHP officer located Sikes’ runaway Prius east of Kitchen Creek Road and tried a number of actions with negative results, according to the CHP press release. The officer pulled alongside Sikes and gave instructions through the public address (PA) system while another in an unmarked car pulled ahead to lead the way, Sikes said.
“I rolled my window down…he could see I was standing up in the car. He could see the lining coming off. I was wearing down the brakes.”
Adding to the danger, there were steep embankments—and Sikes knew that soon, he would reach an area where the risk would be even worse. “There was about a mile and a half ahead to all downhill and 50 mph turns,” he revealed.
At the officer’s instruction, Sikes pulled on the emergency brake. “It started to slow it down just a little bit, not much. You could hear it revving,” he recalled. “Then when it got down to 55 miles per hour, I started hitting the off button. I had to do it several times because it wasn’t going off.”
The officer told him he would pull ahead of Sikes on an uphill stretch in a last-ditch effort to halt the runaway car before Sikes reached the downhill stretch. If that failed, officers planned to lay out spike strips.
Finally, after several tries hitting the off button, the car began slowing on the uphill stretch in the fast lane shortly after 2 p.m.. “As I rolled to a stop, he [the CHP officer]pulled in front of me,” Sikes said, grateful that the officer put himself at risk.
Mercifully, the car stopped in the nick of time – resulting in only minor dings to both vehicles, according to Sikes.
Asked what flashed in his mind during the ordeal, he asid, “I always knew this couldn’t happen to me…My thought was on that CHP guy that got killed,” he said, referring to officer Mark Saylor, who died in a fiery Santee crash with his family after a Toyota accelerator pedal reportedly jammed. “I thought `Gee, he should have just hit the off button.’ But it’s not that simple when you’re out there doing it.”
A married father of grown children, Sikes works with his wife, Patty, operating a real estate site at www.pattyandjimsikes.com. After the terrifying ride, he said, “I just wanted to come home and relax.”
The vehicle will be taken from a CHP facility to El Cajon Toyota tomorrow, Sikes said, adding that he has not yet spoken with Toyota.
According to the website http://www.newcar.com/15/01/2008/toyota/prius/recalls/index.html , some 2008 Toyota Prius models have been implicated in braking problems, but none are included in the sticking accelerator recall.
A call to Toyota El Cajon this evening was answered by a sales representative, who declined to give his name and who said that no manager was available. He declined to leave a message for a manager, instead referring us to an 800 phone number for Toyota at the national level. No one was available at that number to answer our inquiry this evening and there was no option to leave a message.
Sikes concluded, “I always loved Toyotas, but now I’m not so sure.”