• Mar 12, 2010
Toyota Prius driver James Sikes spoke with reporters af... Toyota Prius driver James Sikes spoke with reporters after his runaway incident on a San Diego freeway on March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Did the driver of a runaway Toyota Prius in San Diego tell the truth when he said his accelerator pedal stuck earlier this week? New evidence is calling the driver's credibility into question, although the real answer will not be entirely clear until Toyota and the NHTSA announce the results of their investigation. Details about the driver, James Sikes, leave many wondering if he had ulterior motives for his claims.

USA Today and Jalopnik.com are directly asking the question as to whether or not he faked the incident, citing previous issues with debt and repeated insurance claims as reason for their doubts.

The reports indicate that prior to his unintended acceleration incident, James Sikes and his wife -- both realtors -- found themselves grappling with California's notorious housing bubble and filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Reports show they have $700,000 in debt to their names. He already had a motor home, Mercedes-Benz automobile and Dodge Truck repossessed in the proceedings with creditors.

Among the creditors to whom he owes payments is Toyota Financial Services. Various reports indicate that Sikes is either current with his payments or behind by five months on the 2008 Toyota Prius involved in this week's incident, which has 7,200 miles on it and is valued at $20,494.

Are All Claims Real?

If everyone who gets into a car accident or gets caught speeding is driving a Toyota, should we assume they're experiencing sudden acceleration? The question is an uncomfortable one: if every incident involving a Toyota could be blamed on the company and not the driver, it gives a free pass (albeit a frightening one) to those who choose to exploit it.

For example, in the first 10 weeks of 2009, there were 272 complaints filed to NHTSA in the U.S. for speed control issues with the Prius, according to Associated Press reports. In all of 2008 there were only 74 and just 8 in 2007.

If Sikes's claims were fake, he played a convincing hand. At the time of the incident, all signs pointed to his experience as being authentic.

"I won't drive that car again, period," he told reporters.

Furthermore, the recording of his 911 call, since released, was evidence of the situation's authenticity; unless Sikes was an actor of the highest order, we can't imagine how he'd fake this incident.

Perhaps even more damaging are reports that Sikes has a long history of items being stolen from him, for which he then filed insurance claims.

Skeptics of Sikes also cite the 911 tape that was released shortly after the incident. During the tape, the dispatcher repeatedly told Sikes to put the car in neutral in order to stop it from accelerating. Sikes did not comply with her instructions or the instructions of the officer on the scene who told him to do the same thing via his public address system as they tore down the highway.

Beyond the call itself, the Associated Press reports that Sikes's car was equipped with a brake override system, something that should have slowed the car down once he stomped on the brake pedal.

Sikes claimed he thought that would "flip the car."

"I've since found out that's not possible, but I had no idea," Sikes told USA Today. "Hopefully, I helped save five to 10 lives because people are now finding out" how to put a moving Prius into neutral.

Until Toyota and the NHTSA release the results of their investigation, there won't be any real answers.

Do you think Sikes was telling the truth? Let us know in the comments section below.



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