Federal investigators joining case of accelerating Prius


Federal investigators on Tuesday day were sent to check out a Toyota Prius that a man said accelerated out of control on Interstate 8 in San Diego County.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is gathering details on yesterday’s incident involving a recalled Prius that accelerated out of control,” a spokesperson said. “Two investigators are flying out to California to examine the car and look for potential causes.”

Jacumba resident James Sikes, 61, made a 911 call from the Lakeside area about 1:30 p.m. Monday to report that his eastbound car was speeding up on its own and not responding to his attempts to slow down, according to the CHP.

Officers caught up with the vehicle near Kitchen Creek Road in the Boulder Oaks area, said Brian Pennings, a spokesman for the state agency.

Officer Todd Niebert then pulled alongside the 2008 Prius, which reached speeds in excess of 90 mph during the 20-minute emergency, and used his cruiser’s public-address system to talk Sikes through the process of regaining control by using the emergency brake and turning off the engine.

When those measures began to work, Niebert maneuvered in front of the Toyota as it decelerated and rolled to a halt, then parked in front of the sedan with his rear bumper against its front end as a precaution.

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

Sikes told reporters he had previously received a recall notice for the car and, uncertain what it meant, went to Toyota of El Cajon for clarification.

At the dealership, he was told his vehicle was not on a recall list, Sikes said.

The automaker released a statement following Sikes’ freeway ordeal, announcing that it had dispatched a technical specialist to San Diego County “to investigate the report and offer assistance.”

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide due to acceleration problems.

In August, off-duty CHP Officer Mark Saylor was killed in eastern San Diego County along with his wife, her brother and the Saylors’ 13-year-old daughter after the accelerator of the Lexus ES350 they were in got stuck a they traveled along state Route 125.

The Toyota-manufactured loaner vehicle slammed into the back of a sport utility vehicle at Mission Gorge Road in Santee at about 100 mph, careened off the freeway, hit an embankment, overturned and burst into flames. All four family members died at the scene.

Sheriff’s investigators determined that the deadly crash was caused by a sticking gas pedal trapped by an improperly installed floor mat.

In its statement, the federal traffic-safety agency advised all owners of recalled vehicles “to contact their dealers immediately if they are experiencing problems.”