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Published: Tuesday, 3/9/2010

Prius with stuck accelerator glides to safe stop

ASSOCIATED PRESS

EL CAJON, California — A California highway police officer helped slow a runaway Toyota Prius from 94 mph to a safe stop on Monday after the car's accelerator became stuck on a freeway near San Diego, authorities said said.

Prius driver James Sikes said that the incident Monday occurred just two weeks after he had taken the vehicle in to an El Cajon dealership for repairs after receiving a recall notice, but he was turned away.

"I gave them my recall notice and they handed it back and said I'm not on the recall list," Sikes said.

In a statement, Toyota said it has dispatched a field technical specialist to San Diego to investigate the incident.

Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles worldwide — more than 6 million in the United States — since last fall because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius.

On Monday, Sikes called 911 about 1:30 p.m. after accelerating to pass another vehicle on Interstate 8 near La Posta and finding that he could not control his car, the California Highway Patrol said.

"I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car and it did something kind of funny ... it jumped and it just stuck there," the 61-year-old driver said at a news conference.

"As it was going, I was trying the brakes ... it wasn't stopping, it wasn't doing anything and it just kept speeding up," Sikes said, adding he could smell the brakes burning he was pressing the pedal so hard.

A patrol car pulled alongside the Prius and officers told Sikes over a loudspeaker to push the brake pedal to the floor and apply the emergency brake.

"They also got it going on a steep upgrade," said Officer Jesse Udovich. "Between those three things, they got it to slow down."

After the car decelerated to about 50 mph, Sikes turned off the engine and coasted to a halt.

The officer then maneuvered his car in front of the Prius as a precautionary block, Udovich said.

Toyota owners have complained of their vehicles speeding out of control despite efforts to slow down, sometimes resulting in deadly crashes. The government has received complaints of 34 deaths linked to sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles since 2000.

One of the crashes claimed the life of a CHP officer in August.

Off-duty CHP Officer Mark Saylor was killed along with his wife, her brother and the couple's daughter after their Lexus' accelerator got stuck in La Mesa.

The Toyota-manufactured loaner vehicle slammed into a sport utility vehicle at about 100 mph (160 kph), careened off the freeway, hit an embankment, overturned and burst into flames.



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