Independent investigative journalist, Michael Fumento, has done the yeoman’s work on what appears to be the latest “Balloon Boy” hoax, Jim Sike’s runaway Prius escapade on San Diego’s Interstate 8. Just as a mesmerized nation watched a solitary balloon supposedly containing a young boy, made all the more dramatic with hushed voices of talking heads expressing their horror, again the media dominated the airwaves with a runaway Prius and 61 year old Realtor®, Jim Sikes, at the wheel, on his cell with 911 responders.
Still, there were a few detecting a distinct aroma about the affair. 911 repeatedly told Sikes to utilize the NHTSA recommended, and amazingly simple solution in case of SUA (sudden unintended acceleration)… either shift to neutral, or turn off the engine.
In both cases, Sikes refused to respond, or indicated he would not take that advice.
Over a 23-minute period the 911 dispatcher repeatedly pleaded with Sikes to shift into neutral. He simply refused and then essentially stopped talking to her except to say that he thought he could smell his brakes burning.
“I thought about” shifting into neutral, Sikes said at a televised press conference the day after the incident. But “I had never played with this kind of a transmission, especially when you’re driving and I was actually afraid to do that.” Sikes, who has driven the car for two years, also said “I figured if I knocked it over [the gear knob] the car might flip.”
He 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 for much of the ride he had a phone in one hand. And this is especially interesting: Most gear shifts are on the console, requiring the hand to drop to shift. But, as this image shows, in the 2008 Prius it’s located on the dash within inches of the steering wheel precisely to allow shifting without the hand leaving the wheel. I sat in one and did it easily.
Another unique feature of the shift is that it’s amazingly simple, with only forward, reverse, neutral and “B.” The express purpose of “B” is to slow the car while preserving the brakes, as in a steep descent. Sikes actually could have shifted into two different gears.
Moreover, why would Sikes describe shifting gears as somehow “playing with the transmission.” And apparently he’s never shifted while the vehicle was moving and thought somehow a gear shift could flip his car.
The dispatcher also pleaded with him repeatedly to hit the ignition button. Again, he says he was simply afraid to.
Early in the press conference he said it was because “There was too much traffic to just shut the car off. You know, turn off the vehicle and get hit in the rear.” But that’s always true when you slow down; just make sure nobody’s right behind you. Later he switched gears, pun not intended, saying he was afraid the steering wheel and wheels would lock up.
Instead, Sikes insists he was “laying on the brakes”, and it did nothing. Well, Fumento covers that bit of exaggeration as well.
Others have made similar claims, so Car & Driver magazine recently put them to the test. They found a V-6 Camry at full throttle could be stopped at 435 feet. But to really test the claim, they used a powerful 540-horsepower supercharged Roush Stage 3 Mustang. It took 903 feet, but stop it did. By comparison the Prius can only muster 110 anemic ponies. Further, as Newton’s Second Law reminds us, weight is inherently a factor in slowing a moving object. The Prius weighs about two-thirds of what the Roush does.
But while these other cars were brought to full stop, Sikes says he couldn’t even reduce his speed. A video on the Web also demonstrates a 2008 Prius easily slowed to a stop with the accelerator fully depressed.
An assisting officer said he saw Sikes apply the brakes and smelled them. But of course that was only when he drew close to the vehicle. The officer doesn’t know what Sikes was doing before he arrived on the scene.
To make the web of deceit even more dense, Sikes insisted he attempted to reach down and phyically pry the supposed stuck gas pedal up from the floor…. saying “… It didn’t move at all; it was stationary.”
As sleuth Fumento notes, he couldn be bothered to shift into neutral, three inches away from the steering wheel while holding a cell phone, but he can reach down and fiddle with the pedal at 90+ miles per hour? So Fumento decided to duplicate his claims:
I tried to imitate Sikes’ alleged effort in a 2008 Prius. From the front bottom of the steering wheel to the front bottom of the accelerator in up position it’s 28.5 inches; while fully deployed it’s 2.5 inches farther away. I have average-length arms (33-inch shirt sleeve) and no gut. But even though the steering wheel was as flush to the dashboard as it goes, it prevented me from all but touching the accelerator in the up position.
To reach behind a deployed accelerator and get any kind of a grip you’d have to add at least three more inches. In my case, it required squashing my face against the radio and completely removing my eyes from the road. Only the tallest men could physically do what Sikes claimed he did and no press accounts refer his being exceptionally tall. But to settle this issue (albeit not the others), Sikes would simply have to sit in his Prius and show he could reach behind the pedal while it was fully depressed. Why has nobody asked him to do so? Moreover, even for an orangutan it would be an incredibly awkward move for somebody afraid to pop a car into neutral or hit the ignition button.
Once Fumento came to the conclusion this was all a bunch of hoo hah… he turned to motivation. 15 minutes of fame? What?
How about cash? In these times, that’s a hefty motivation, and certainly Congress and Obama’s WH have been painting a huge bullseye on Toyota. So Fumento credits a couple of other blogging sleuths at the websites Jalopnik and Gawker.com for digging into Sike’s personal past. Apparently real estate and business weren’t going so well.
Sikes and his wife Patty in 2008 filed for bankruptcy and are over $700,000 in debt. Among their creditors is Toyota Financial Services for a lease on a 2008 Toyota Prius, with value at time of bankruptcy of $20,494. The Jalopnik Web site shows a copy of Toyota’s secured claims form, though when Jalopnik questioned Sikes by e-mail he denied being behind on his Prius payments.
Sikes also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items that are slowly coming to light. In 2001 he filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a prosumer mini-DV camera and gear, and $24,000 in cash, according to Fox40 in Sacramento. His bankruptcy documents show a 2008 payment of $7,400 for an allegedly stolen saxophone and clothes.
For what it’s worth, Sikes owned and operated a Web site called AdultSwingLife.com. More salacious material on this man will continue to pour in.
But wait… this gets better since Matt Hardigree at Jalopnik finds his ex-partner ditched Sikes for his “numerous incidents of fraud and theft”.
William Sweet says he went into business with Sikes, together opening up a paralegal services company called “AAA California Aid” in 1997. Sweet operated the main office and Sikes ran one in Los Banos, California. Sweet alleges numerous incidents of fraud and theft involving Sikes led him to dissolve their partnership, including an incident in which Sikes sent an employee to break into the main office to steal payment records.
“I had him on video where he would have one of his employees from the Los Banos office go through our files and he would pull out cases that have balances on them and he would go collect the money,” said Sweet, now sole owner of the company operating under a new name. “He would take the money over in Los Banos.”
Disagreement over the business finances wasn’t the only issue Sweet had with Sikes as he echoed reports of mysterious thefts involving Sikes and claims his former partner stole office supplies.
“We’d buy paper for the office ten reams at a time, and within two weeks he’d be totally out. According to the cameras he was hauling boxes out three-or-four at a time. He was feeding his other two offices.”
Jim Sikes apparently was displeased with Sweet over the installation of a security system and security cameras, but since Sweet ran the office there was nothing Sikes could do.
It comes as no surprise that when Sweet heard it was Sikes on the news, his mind immediately raced to a scam operation.
“As soon as i heard the words “Jim Sikes” I immediately woke up out of a dead sleep and thought “uh oh what the hell is this guy up to now?” He’s trying to do a scam, and get in on that lawsuit for the Toyota thing, that’s immediately what I thought.”
Sikes… originally quite happy to be in front of the cameras, is now staying extremely low profile.
One would have to wonder about the faculties of a man who seems capable of running multiple businesses, handling finances and the futures of homeowners, but is too “scared” to follow simple instructions over 23 minutes to simple shift to neutral… three inches away from his fingertips, the press the ignition “Off” button.
Scam for cash? Looking pretty good for that one. And kudos to the independent blog world journalists for doing the work the main stream media should have been doing during that 23 minutes. Apparently they are such slow learners that lessons from the “Balloon Boy” episode still escapes them.
And we wonder why people have no faith in the media anymore? heh
watching Cavuto’s interview with Fumento