As I reported in Forbes Online on Friday, and am scheduled to discuss tomorrow on NBC’s Today Show (beginning at 7AM EST), the Balloon Boy in a Prius incident was baloney from beginning to end. Now a congressional memo available in its entirety online has provided further substantiation based on an analysis of the vehicle.
Here’s a summary of what I reported in Forbes, which is essentially a summary of what nobody else in the entire U.S media reported:
Sikes repeatedly says he stood on the brakes or lay on the brakes and he couldn’t even slow the vehicle. Yet Car and Driver tested three cars at full throttle at 100 mph and brought them all to a full stop, including a 540-horsepower Mustang. The 2008 Prius has 110 anemic ponies under the hood.
You can listen to the tape of the 911 operator repeatedly begging Sikes to either stop the engine with the ignition button or put the car into neutral. Sikes never says these functions didn’t work; he says he was afraid to try them giving various contradictory or absurd reasons.
Regarding his refusal to shift into neutral, Sikes told CNN “I was afraid to try to [reach] over there and put it in neutral. I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands – 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast.” Yet:
•We know he spent most of the ride with a cell phone in his hand.
• He claims he reached all way under the dash to try to physically pull up the floored accelerator. I have average-length arms and can barely touch the pedal in the full up position. There’s an excellent chance Sikes is physically incapable of what he claims. Nobody asked him to repeat the motion. In any case it’s an incredibly awkward movement for somebody who insisted he couldn’t take his hands off the wheel.
•Finally, the 2008 Prius shift knob is mounted on the dash inches away from the steering wheel, expressly to allow shifting without lifting the right hand.
And here’s something I missed in the original piece, though it’s included in the version on my website: After Sikes stopped the assisting officer observed that the accelerator was in the up position. Why would stopping the car make it pop back up? That makes no sense.
Sikes turned out to have a checkered past. He is $700,000 in debt and owes $20,000 of that on his Prius. He also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items. In other words, it was already case closed. The memo is just playing pile on.
It says that during two hours of test drives of Sikes’ car Thursday, technicians with Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to duplicate what Sikes had described. “Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down,” the document written by the Republican staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said.
Also, the Prius is designed to shut down if the brakes are applied while the gas pedal is pressed to the floor. If it doesn’t, the engine would “completely seize,” according to the report citing Toyota’s “residential Hybrid expert.”
“It does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time,” said the memo.
Naturally Sikes’ attorney said “Pay no attention to those facts behind the curtain!” He seems to think it important, as I’ve heard others also say, that Sikes says he has no intention of suing Toyota. Granted I happen to be a lawyer but a quick Google search reveals he couldn’t have sued Toyota in any case. He was physically unhurt. While California is one of the few jurisdictions allowing suits for unintentional infliction of emotional distress, it allows it in only three specific circumstances and Sikes alleged wild ride falls under none of them.
The media will insist that until the government report came out they had no way of knowing. Go back to the beginning of this blog and read what I wrote in Forbes. The evidence was there all along and I reported it two days before the memo was leaked.
Ultimately Sikes has proved himself to be dumber than the proverbial box of rocks. He only got as far as he could because while journalists in school are taught, “If your mother says it, check it out” in this case their motto was “In Sikes We Trust.”
Why, after all, didn’t they question the congressional testimony of Rhonda Smith that their Lexus suddenly accelerated on its own to 100 mph and nothing she tried, including braking, putting the car in neutral, or even turning off the engine worked. Yes, four of the car’s functions all froze at once. What saved them? “God intervened,” they said. Inexplicably, they sold this creature to somebody else who drove it 27,000 trouble-free miles before selling it to NHTSA.
Like Congress, the media wanted to believe. They wanted a piece of Toyota’s hide and they weren’t about to allow little things get in the way – such as that demonic possession of automobiles might make a good plot line for Stephen King novels but has no place in the investigation of possible wrongdoing on the part of a car company.