EL CAJON, Calif. - A Toyota Prius that sped out of control on a California freeway was towed to a dealership Tuesday while federal and company inspectors converged on the car to determine whether a stuck gas pedal was to blame.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent two investigators to examine the car after Monday's incident, said Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which oversees NHTSA. Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker is sending three of its own technicians to investigate.
James Sikes, 61, of Jacumba, Calif., told authorities that the accelerator malfunctioned Monday as he drove his Prius on Interstate 8 in San Diego County. The car reached 94 mph during the 20 minutes before a California Highway Patrol officer helped get the Prius driver to slow down and turn off the engine.
The incident comes as Toyota is fighting fears over the safety of its vehicles, long revered for their safety and reliability.
It was about 12 miles from where Sikes' Prius started speeding where a deadly crash last year sparked scrutiny into the Japanese company's vehicles. CHP Officer Mark Saylor, his wife, her brother and the couple's daughter died after their Lexus' accelerator became trapped by a wrong-size floor mat on a freeway in La Mesa. The loaner car hit a sport utility vehicle and burst into flames.
Since then, 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.
Tuesday, Toyota denied reports from The Wall Street Journal that the automaker plans to announce a new recall for the 2004-2009 Prius to address the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of gas pedals.
The company has blamed the issue on mechanical problems and floor mats that can wedge the gas pedal.
"It wasn't the floor mat. The floor mat we have has hooks on it," Sikes' wife, Patty, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Patty Sikes said the car appeared to have an accelerator malfunction a few weeks ago but it was brief. "It took off for a second, and then it just stopped," she said.