By Miriam Raftery
March 15, 2010 (San Diego) – After completing its own testing, Toyota concluded yesterday that it could find no evidence to support James Sikes’ claim that a sticking gas pedal caused his vehicle to accelerate to 94 mph in a widely-publicized incident on I-8 in East County last week. Toyota said its tests found that Sikes rapidly pressed the gas and brakes back and forth over 250 times and that the car’s gas pedal and backup safety system were working properly.
Tests also found the floor mat was not touching the pedal, which Sikes had also confirmed. The front brakes had severe damage. However Toyota concluded that the shift lever worked normally and could have been switched into neutral, and that the power switch also worked and could have shut the car off if pressed for three seconds . Nor were diagnostic problems found after examining trouble codes.
Sikes’ attorney, John H. Gomez, told the Union-Tribune that it was not significant that inspectors could not recreate the conditions that Sikes reported. “They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration,” Gomez observed, suggesting that there is a "ghost" in the machine. He added that his client has done no wrong.
The Union-Tribune cited British electronic engineer Keith Armostrong, who speculated that the Prius’ backup system could have been compromised by an electronic glitch. An expert on Toyota cases who spoke to ECM on condition of anonymity also suggested that an electronics failure could be responsible.
Toyota has recalled over 8 million vehicles worldwide for sticking accelerators and floormat issues related to acceleration problems. No Prius models are included in that recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission is continuing to investigate and cautions that what happened with Sikes’ vehicle may never be known.
Sikes, a Jacumba resident, called 911 to request help after stating that his accelerator pedal stuck on I-8 east. After more than 20 minutes of a high-speed ride, he stopped the vehicle safety following instructions from a California Highway Patrol Officer who pulled alongside and provide directions through the patrol car’s P.A. system. Sikes held a press conference and later gave an exclusive interview to East County Magazine, but declined to respond to later calls with follow-up questions.
Questions have been raised in various online posts and blogs regarding the veracity of Sikes’ story and cast doubt on his efforts to halt the vehicle over such a prolonged period. Some have also raised questions regarding his character and suggested he may have been motivated to seek financial gain or media attention.
Newspaper accounts have revealed that he is in debt, despite winning $55,000 in a past California lottery. Sikes' wife confirmed the lottery winning to East County Magazine. She also denied that her husband has any relation to a Jim Sikes Jr. who is a race car driver. A Channel 10 News story today states that Sikes also ran a dating website for swingers and that he is a real estate agent not affiliated with a licensed broker.
Toyota has not said the incident was a fraud, but has offered no explanation for the variations between Sikes’ account and the vehicle test results. Sikes has stated that he has no intent to sue Toyota.