Prius “Balloon Boy”: Hoax for cash?
Ex biz partner fingers Sikes as scammer

By 24 Comments 3,487 views

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 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 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

H/T to Curt for the heads up, and simultaneous to
watching Cavuto’s interview with Fumento


Also blogging:

Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential

AP’s Elliot Spagat

Michael Hagarty at Tirekicker blogspot

Another from Tirekickerk where Sikes swears he never planned to sue Toyota… uh huh

USA Today

Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.

24 Responses to “Prius “Balloon Boy”: Hoax for cash?
Ex biz partner fingers Sikes as scammer”

  1. 1


    Toyota should file suit against this guy for his attempt to scam them. Toyota’s efforts to reassure it’s customers and restore it’s good name through recall repairs and an honest appraisal of problems and possible problems are very important but so too is the need to stomp flat the growing numbers opportunists filing bogus claims.

    The state should revoke this man’s license – he deliberately risked the lives of other people while trying to build a bogus claim.

  2. 2


    This is nothing but a scam.

    Popular Mechanics did a test with several cars. (Incl the Prius) They went 60mph, hit the brakes, then floored the gass-pedal…EVERY CAR TESTED STOPPED. They stopped much farther than usual, but they all stopped, including the 540 horsepower Shelby Mustang. Sikes merely dragged his brakes, which kept the brake-lights on for the “show”, but eventually burned off the pads.

    This man is a scammer, (among about 20,000 others) playing on the BIGGER scam of this government punishing Toyota for not succumbing to the Union protection racket as supported, and in conjunction with, Obama and his thugs.

    He only did what Obama is doing, in a more blatant manner.

  3. 3



    Now Patvann, Sikes is merely engaging in one of America’s greatest get rich schemes… sue someone for easy cash when you’re down and out. LOL

    Sad when you think it’s scum that keep all these snake in the grass lawyers… ahem… in the green.

    While I agree that Toyota needs to find the problem for SUA, the solution is easy and seems to be overlooked by those that apparently fall into the “too stupid to drive” category. There may be some instances where the distance between the vehicle and an object or cliff is too short to be an effective. But all in all, there are simply not that many instances of this that cannot be explained… or evidently staged for profit.

    I’ve been wondering about the electronic throttle system they’ve switched to. Harleys have also done that in the last couple of years. No throttle cable. Depressing a gas pedar or twisting the throttle send an electronic pulse. Toyota says they looked there. So then I have to wonder if it’s something shared with the cruise control.

    In the meantime, I’d buy another Toyota to replace my current Toyota in a heartbeat. Over 163,000 miles, and no maintenance save oil changes, tires, and one instance of a leaking oil pan. By contrast, my friend with a GM/Pontiac G6 has put four times what I’ve spent in eleven years into her three year old car.

    And besides… I know how to shift into neutral, and turn a vehicle off. It’s a natural brilliance and higher education skill, I guess… LOL

  4. 4


    I am afraid the the whole issue of SUI is a farce, just as it was for Audi. No engineer has been able to reproduce the effect. (Even when trying to induce it with various radio frequencies, AC surges and DC shorts.

    As a holder of a Masters in both Electrical and Mechanical Eng, and as a man who has built, and re-built many cars, (and a couple of V-twins) this entire thing is a scam.

    I can supply the specifics on exactly how electronic throttles work, along with their back-up circuitry, but it would bore you all to tears, and take up too much space and time.

    I can assure you that both the Prius and the Harley have great brakes, and a throttle that knows when to shut off the gas to the injectors.

    For a great overview on the shakedown being done to Toyota, read this:

  5. 5



    I’ve got quite a few links on the electronic throttles… simplified for the layman… er, laygirl… LOL. I don’t have the need to know that indepth. And I am also aware that there is braking overrides, as well as no tranny lock, you can shut off the engine, and there is also a rev limiter that trips.

    All of which makes this a politically motivated bruhaha, of course. A media and WH witch hunt. Which brings me to Liberty Chick’s historic overview of the unions’ assaults on Toyota on Mar 9th. All very good, and a great foundation. It is, however, missing the obvious point that I made a month earlier in my Feb 4th post about Obama’s WOT… War on Toyota. While Liberty Chick provides the union’s motivation, she misses that it is being implemented by our own WH, who just happens to have assumed ownership of the competition by usurping bankruptcy laws and contract agreements, and handed that control over to the union.

    But I do believe this was posted during your MIA period, Patvann. Don’t do that to us again… LOL

  6. 6


    But I do believe this was posted during your MIA period, Patvann. Don’t do that to us again… LOL

    LOL! No Ma’am I shant, and I shall now put myself in detention and read the post. 🙂

    (5 min later)

    Dang woman! Nicely done!

  7. 7


    Pathetic. I’m not a Toyota fan but this guy smells. I own a Honda. Won’t own anything else. The Tappet brothers pretty much say, just short of angering Detroit, that Toyota and Honda are great cars and good value. I love Car Talk on NPR, Sat/Sun mornings. The only thing I can do to a car is gas it up, and drive it. Still love listening to that show.

    Obummo has no business talking about cars. He should use public transportation and shut the F up.

  8. 8



    Art: Obummo has no business talking about cars. He should use public transportation and shut the F up.

    LOL! He does, Art… his “public” transportation is called AF One, and I believe his last jaunt was taking a the jumbo jet to Phillie last week…. a total of 140 approx miles one way. Of course, you didn’t specify he take frugal and responsible “public” transportation.

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  10. 10


    $700,000 in debt? Holy crap!! Thanks for the excellent detail on this scumbag. I would still buy a Toyota, however the Prius is forever tainted in my mind since 90% of them coming out in 2008 included an Obama sticker on their rear ends! And the newspapers want a bailout? They suck, and they are lazy. Duh, they are liberals!!! Whitehouse stenographers, the lot of them.

  11. 12


    makes me wonder how many others are trying to scam Toyota. Orange County Calif. is suing them. They never have any money so they are jumping on the scam wagon as well. It’s sickening and pathetic. These loser liberals ever heard of WORK FOR PAY??

    I have owned 3 Toyota vehicles in the past and never had one problem w them. I now own a Honda and love it however I would not be hesitant to purchase another Toyota as they are great vehicles too. One car I will never drive again is a union thug car. I’ll ride my bike or walk first.

  12. 13

    Tom in CA

    Just say NO to GM.

    Bought my last GM car 10 years ago.

    I’d pay more for a Toyota at this point than support the Union thugs and the Democrats.

    Let them keep pouring cash into GM until the adults get into office. It’s a price everyone must pay.

  13. 14


    Sikes reminds me of the Dickens’ character Bill Sykes, an unsavory character is the best that could be said for either of them; although, Bill had a dog.

    Oh, by the way, anyone who has driven down a mountain road with a load of logs will tell you, continuous brake pressure at 90 mph will only allow you a few minutes or less worth of brakes. At that point, you are metal to metal and when the temps are hot enough to weld, you will flip.

    Keep your brakes cool, people; unless, you don’t really care about stopping. Heat, speed, weight, and inclination all work against your brakes; of course, if you have cerebral malfunction, the factors increase exponentially.

    This guy needs a little time in the Slammer.

  14. 15


    Wodiej, ‘Union Thug Car’, thanks for the expression. I have a 94 One Ton Dodge with 650,000 kms, the rings are cracked but the engines are easy to rebuild, it is the most comfortable truck I have ever driven: but I will be damned if I will rebuild it and drive an Obama Thug Vehicle. It is going to the crusher!

    I will never buy a GM or Chrysler product again. I have several One ton Ford trucks and they work just fine, as a matter of fact, they are great trucks!

    Buy Ford, buy Toyota, the government should not be in the car business nor be in bed with the unions.

    Now, I must go to work on a non-union job.

  15. 16


    Don’t remember where I posted it but reconized it as a scam the day it hit the news. Man needs money, man lies and cheats to get it. Toyota can’t get blood from a turnip but they can stop others from making false claims by going after this fool.

  16. 18


    Orange County Calif. is suing them. They never have any money so they are jumping on the scam wagon as well

    That is so funny. I think Toyota should terminate all suppliers based in CA. That’ll show them.

  17. 19


    First, I’m surprised that a Prius can make it to 95 mph. Second, I think that Sikes got caught speeding and used the whole thing to his advantage.

    Just an opinion.

  18. 20


    Just wondering if RBob is going to represent this Sikes character in court? RBob tries to impress people with his legal skills, I figured he would immediately jump on the bandwagon and come to the defense of this skunk.
    PS RBOB – please spell my name correctly the next time you publically call me a liar (as you did in a previous post).

  19. 21


    It’s funny . . . a scammer tries to get publicity . . . and someone blames Obama and the unions? You people truly are possessed and vexed and obsessed with Obama.

    Maduline —

    If I called you a liar, I am sorry. I usually try to couch it as “you are either ignorant of the basic facts or you are being deceitful.” It is always possoble that you are operating from a font of blissful ignorance rather than mendacity. But if I called you a liar . . . what was it that you were lying about this time?

    By the way — I don’t do products liability. I have represented Ford before, and a Chrysler supplier in employment stuff. And my firm does represent Honda in intellectual property matters. But, no, I would not and could no represent an individual against an auto company on probably any kind of matter.

    Art —

    Nice of you to work the racist blast in there. And I note the lack of any commentary from the cons here calling you out on your bigoted bullsh*t. But then again, what else could we expect . . . .

  20. 22



    billy bob: If I called you a liar, I am sorry. I usually try to couch it as “you are either ignorant of the basic facts or you are being deceitful.” It is always possoble that you are operating from a font of blissful ignorance rather than mendacity. But if I called you a liar . . . what was it that you were lying about this time?

    OK… my authored post. I’ll go OT just for a brief moment. We can’t have billy bob acting senile, can we? Or perhaps it’s slipped his mind as a matter of convenience. How utterly predictable. We’ve all noticed when da sheeeeet you’ve attempted to sling consistently ends up on your own face, billy bob, you just move on down the road to another thread. We’re getting quite used to seeing your rear end, shuffling on out, ya know. It could be your best side, guy. You should head for exits more often. We’ll promise to notice you’re gone…. with big smiles on our faces to boot.

    However to jog that ever perky and astute legal grey matter you insist you possess, this particular shining moment of yours would be where you had your hit parade of lies and accusations against “we cons” because Madalyn dared to point out that student loans legislation was going to be tacked on to the O’healthcare backroom sleaze bill…. as promised by Harkin, Pelosi and sundry other elected elite of your ilk.

    What became truly delicious is it took your own corrupt leadership… or what’s that class warfare phase you like to use? oh yes… “you people”…. less than 11 hours to prove what an ass you were. LOL Ah yes…. karma has a way of making one smile. And it’s especially delightful when you don’t have to wait so long for it.


    Now, we apologize for this interruption… and back to the regularly scheduled topic of Prius Balloon Boy. It seems that federal investigators just can’t make that Prius misbehave again…

    And just to stick the knife it just a touch more… ahem… it appears that the Congressional assault on Toyota – started by Obama’s Transportation Secretary’s unprecedented hype last month, and further fueled by the media – is making some Toyota owners complaint happy. You know… that sheeple mentality?

    Or perhaps everyone’s looking for a piece of Toyota’s pie in this economy.

    LaHood thought parking your Toy in the garage was a good idea, and GM simultaneously tried to hop on the lynch Toyota bandwagon with offers to buy out the Toyotas cheap, and financing incentives to pull Toyota owners into the GM net. Hasn’t worked, BTW…

  21. 24


    The article is very wonderful. You analyse in the round. I will go on to attention your other wonderful posts. Thank you.

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