Runaway Prius likely staged

By ELLIOT SPAGAT and KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writers – Sun Mar 14, 7:50 pm ET
SAN DIEGO – The mystery surrounding a Toyota Prius whose driver reported a stuck accelerator deepened Sunday as the motorist's attorney dismissed a congressional memo that questions his client's version of events.
The memo said technicians with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota could not duplicate the sudden, unintended acceleration that James Sikes said he experienced March 8 when he reached 94 mph on a California freeway. Investigators tried during a two-hour test drive Thursday.
The memo was based on a congressional staffer's observations of a two-day inspection last week at a dealership in suburban San Diego. A Toyota official who was at the inspection explained that an electric motor would "completely seize" if a system to shut off the gas when the brake is pressed fails, and there was no evidence to support that happened, according to the memo.
"In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time," according to the report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for the committee's top Republican, Darrell Issa of California, said Sunday that the findings "certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events" reported by Sikes.
"We're not saying Mr. Sikes is wrong or that he lied, we're saying that questions have arisen in the investigation," Bardella said.
John Gomez, Sikes' attorney, said the findings fail to undermine his client's story.
"I don't put a whole lot of stock in their explanation," he said. "It's not surprising they couldn't replicate it. They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration. Mr. Sikes never had a problem in the three years he owned this vehicle."
Brian Pennings, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said his agency's view that there is no evidence of a hoax is unchanged. The CHP does not plan to investigate the incident because there were no injuries or property damage.
"Unless they can completely disprove Mr. Sikes, we're done," Pennings said. "It doesn't sound like they can do that."
Messages left with three Toyota spokesmen at the automaker's U.S headquarters in Torrance were not returned Sunday. Transportation Department officials did not immediately comment Sunday.
NHTSA is looking into claims from more than 60 Toyota owners that their vehicles continue to accelerate unexpectedly despite having their vehicles repaired.
Toyota has recalled millions of cars because of floor mats that can snag gas pedals or accelerators that can sometimes stick. Sikes' car was covered by the floor mat recall but not the one for sticky accelerators. He later told reporters that he tried to pull on the gas pedal during his harrowing ride, but it didn't "move at all."
The Prius is powered by two electric motor-generators and a small gasoline engine, all connected by transmission gears. A computer, which Toyota calls the "hybrid control computer" determines what combination of motors is needed and which would be most efficient.
Craig Hoff, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., said that for the Prius to accelerate out of control, at least two systems would have to fail simultaneously. They are the sensor signal that tracks the brake and gas pedal positions when the driver presses on them and the hybrid control computers.
"The chance of them both going wrong, plus the fact that the signal is bad, it just seems very, very, very remote," Hoff said. "Could it happen? Statistically, yes. But it just doesn't seem very likely."
Several events usually combine to cause problems with cars, and it's difficult to reproduce them, Hoff said.
"It's going to make it really hard to find, because you've got to line up the multiple effects," he said.
The incident involving the Prius came at the worst possible time for Toyota and happened only a few hours after the company held a high-profile news conference at its Torrance headquarters rejecting assertions of sudden unintended acceleration by an Illinois engineer.
Sikes, 61, could not be reached to comment but his wife said he stands by his story.
"Everyone can just leave us alone," Patty Sikes said Saturday night. "Jim didn't get hurt. There's no intent at all to sue Toyota. If any good can come out of this, maybe they can find out what happened so other people don't get killed."
Mrs. Sikes said the couple's lives have been turned upside down and they've received death threats.
Sikes is not seeking fame or fortune, said Gomez. The driver, who spoke with reporters at least twice after the incident, will not sue Toyota and has declined many requests to appear on national television, he said.
The congressional memo, first obtained by The Associated Press, describes a series of tests conducted by Toyota and the NHTSA on Wednesday and Thursday. A full diagnostics was conducted, followed by an inspection of the brakes and a test drive. Investigators also compared the Sikes vehicle to a 2008 Prius provided by a Toyota dealership.
NHTSA told congressional staff that the results "were the same on both vehicles and within the manufactures specifications," according to the memo.
Following the tests, NHTSA paid Sikes $2,500 for the gas pedal, throttle body and the two computers from his vehicle, the memo said.
The memo said both the front and rear brakes were worn and damaged by heat, consistent with Sikes saying that he stood on the brake pedal with both feet and was unable to stop the car. But if the fail-safe system worked properly, the brakes wouldn't have been damaged because power would have been cut to the wheels.
The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the wear was not consistent with the brakes being applied at full force for a long period, citing three people familiar with the probe, whom it did not name. The newspaper said the brakes may have been applied intermittently.
Gomez said the best evidence that his client was frantically slamming the brakes is that the CHP officer smelled burning brakes and saw the lights on.
Gomez also represents the family of CHP Officer Mark Saylor, which sued Toyota this month in San Diego Superior Court.
Saylor was killed in August along with his wife, her brother and the couple's daughter after their Lexus accelerator became trapped by a wrong-size floor mat on a freeway in La Mesa, near San Diego. Their loaner car hit a sport utility vehicle and burst into flames.

No votes yet

I wouldn't be surprised if government motors had something to do with this scam.

Want nothing to do with government motors

Odd that the official SB Toyota issue poster missed this one.

What up Puppy??

The Revolving Door Between the Auto Industry and its Regulators
Washington - Dozens of former federal officials are playing leading roles in helping carmakers handle federal investigations of auto defects, including those for Toyota's runaway acceleration problems.

A Washington Post analysis shows that as many as 33 former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration employees and Transportation Department appointees left those jobs and now work for automakers as lawyers, consultants, lobbyists and in other jobs that deal with government safety probes, recalls and regulations.

The reach of these former agency employees is broad. Their names appear on rosters for every major automaker, every automotive trade group and as expert witnesses and legal counsel for the industry in class-action lawsuits.

Last week, Toyota hired Rodney Slater, the transportation secretary under President Bill Clinton, to head its North American Quality Advisory Panel.

No law bans these officials from moving straight from government into industry. But critics of the revolving-door practice say that it has contributed to flaws in federal oversight and enforcement, and several members of Congress say legislation is needed to prevent former employees from conducting business with the agency for up to two years after leaving government jobs.

"The relationship is too cozy, and it is not an equal playing field," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is pushing for revolving-door reforms. "They need to insulate themselves a bit. People of our country expect there will be checks and balances and that someone will be looking out for them."

Some former agency and department officials say the revolving-door practice is common in every industry and gives companies a fuller understanding of the federal government.

The revolving-door issue will come up at a hearing Thursday held by a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Over the past several weeks, congressional hearings into Toyota Motor Corp. have highlighted the instrumental roles played by two former NHTSA officials - Christopher Santucci and Chris Tinto - in managing federal investigations and a recall demanded by their former employer.

In 2003, as problems with Toyota's sudden acceleration intensified, Santucci gave two weeks' notice and joined Toyota, working under Tinto, who was his Toyota contact. Tinto had gone to work for Toyota nine years earlier. Both had worked in the agency's Office of Defects Investigation.

An internal Toyota document, subpoenaed by a House committee, showed Toyota officials boasted about the effectiveness of the effort in which Santucci and Tinto were involved, saying it saved the company as much as $100 million.

Santucci and Tinto declined to comment, but Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis said that both men have "always acted in a manner consistent with the highest ethical standards and professionalism in the performance of their duties for Toyota."

Former NHTSA lawyers Kenneth Weinstein and Erika Jones also do legal work for Toyota. Weinstein, who created the agency's Early Warning Reporting System to identify defects, serves as a company lawyer handling sudden-acceleration lawsuits. Jones also is working on these cases and is providing legal advice to Toyota on how it should handle the congressional probes. Jones declined an interview request. Weinstein did not return calls seeking comment.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said that President Barack Obama, by executive order and within hours of taking office, placed a two-year ban on senior presidential appointees ability to contact their former agencies. But most of the officials who went through NHTSA's revolving door are not covered by the ban.

Statements made are the opinion of the writer who is exercising his first amendment right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and are generally permitted.

I say they waterboard that Sikes character to see who put him up to it.

Big deal. I'm sure Government Motors, Ford and Chrysler (Gov. Motors II) have hired a few of them, too.


Sure looks that way. Wolfie tries to distract us again from the main issue to discuss...the staged, ginned-up acceleration of the car.


The major fault in this system was the one connecting the steering wheel to the driver's seat. In the common parlance, that's called THE DRIVER.

I find it specious at best to be told that the following systems all failed or malfunctioned at once:

1. Accelerator : became stuck
2. Brakes : became unable to stop the car
3. Gear : could not disengage
4. Key : could not turn off the car

The chances of such failures or malfunctions occurring at the same time are probably billions to one. I don't buy the story. Sikes is a fraud.

It depends on how the car is put together.

1. Accelerator : became stuck
More accurately the accelerator control ceased to function. Whether that was due to the pedal sticking is another matter entirely. Note that the driver does not articulate the situation this way.
2. Brakes : became unable to stop the car
No surprise. If the car is not moving, then the brakes will generally be able to prevent the engine from moving the car. In this case the car is already traveling at 50 plus MPH, so the braking system has to overcome the current inertia plus the engine at full throttle, which the brakes are not designed to do.
3. Gear : could not disengage
There is no mechanical linkage between the gear shift and the transmission. So, if the driver shifted into neutral it is possible that nothing may happen.
4. Key : could not turn off the car
As the accelerator and gear shift, there is no independent circuit between the ignition switch and the engine, so it is possible that the ignition switch failed for the same reason that the other controls failed.

Some years back I watched a Saturn operate lights, seat belts, wipers and other items because the junction block got water in it every time the car was driven in the rain. The car acted as though it was haunted. Eventually the owner got it fixed, but only after he gave the 'mechanic' in question three different kinds of Hell about the junction block and rain. This isn't much different.

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.