JACUMBA, Calif. - A Toyota executive said Thursday the company is "mystified" by a report that a California man's Prius gas pedal became stuck and caused the car to speed out of control on a California freeway.
James Sikes quickly became the face of the Toyota gas pedal scandal after he called 911 to report losing control of his Prius on Monday. His car reached nerve-rattling speeds of 94 mph before an officer helped bring it to a stop.
Federal investigators are looking into the incident, and Toyota officials said they have talked extensively to Sikes.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is dispatching experts to a New York City suburb to look over a wrecked Toyota Prius whose driver said it accelerated on its own into a stone wall. The 2005 Prius was being driven Monday by a 56-year-old woman who told police it sped up on its own as she was easing out of her employer's driveway.
A law firm representing Sikes said Thursday he has no plans to sue Toyota over the ordeal. A phone message left for the firm seeking additional comment wasn't immediately returned.
Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, said all Priuses are equipped with a computer system that cuts power to the wheels if the brake and gas pedals are depressed at the same time — something Sikes was doing.
"It's tough for us to say if we're skeptical. I'm mystified in how it could happen with the brake override system," he said.
He attributed the bulk of problematic Toyota acceleration reports to faulty floor mats that trap the gas pedal.
The harrowing story served as yet another embarrassment for Toyota as it fends off intense public backlash over safety issues.
Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles worldwide — more than 6 million in the United States — because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius. Regulators have linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by accelerator problems.
The dramatic ordeal unfolded Monday as Sikes drove his blue 2008 Prius along a freeway near San Diego.
He called 911 and reported that his gas pedal had become stuck, and spoke to dispatchers in two calls that spanned 23 minutes. The 911 dispatcher repeatedly told Sikes to throw the car into neutral and turn off the ignition. Sikes often didn't respond to her instructions, but he later said he had put down the phone to keep both hands on the wheel.
A California Highway Patrol officer eventually pulled alongside the car and told Sikes over a loudspeaker to push the brake pedal to the floor and apply the emergency brake.
The patrol said the braking coincided with a steep incline on the freeway that helped slow the car to 50 mph — at which point Sikes shut off the engine.
When asked why he didn't simply put the car in neutral, Sikes responded: "You had to be there. I might go into reverse. I didn't know if the car would flip. I had no idea how it would react."
Sikes spoke in calm, measured tones on the emergency call, and later said he was "embarrassed" by the incident.
"I'm just embarrassed about that," he said. "You have to be there. That's all I can say."