US House Rep. Darrell Issa wondered aloud Monday whether last week’s sensational incident of a runaway Toyota Prius was a hoax, telling CBS’s Early Show that some drivers may be lying about problems with their cars to gain fame.
The California Republican pointed to news that investigators from Toyota and the federal government were unable to duplicate the incident in testing last week.
That “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but let’s understand it doesn’t mean it did happen,” said Issa, who is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating the recent Toyota recalls over stuck accelerator pedals.
“In some cases, people didn’t understand how their car worked, and so they thought something was unintended acceleration when it wasn’t,” Issa said. “And in some cases there will be people who, quite honestly, want the notoriety.”
Last Monday, Prius owner James Sikes called 911 from a California freeway to report his car was accelerating to above 90 miles per hour and he couldn’t stop it. Police helped bring the car to a stop.
But even before news emerged that Sikes’ mishap couldn’t be duplicated, accusations began flying that the incident was a hoax. Blogger Matt Hardigree at Jalopnik suggested Sikes may have had a financial motive to claim wrongdoing by a corporation: Sikes reportedly declared bankruptcy in 2008 and is $700,000 in debt.
Theodore H. Frank, a lawyer who represented General Motors in lawsuits over sudden acceleration, also suggested Sikes may have been faking it. “Somehow no one in the press has asked Sikes how it is he could stop the car once it had slowed to 50 mph, but not when it was going 90 mph,” Frank wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner. “Have Balloon Boy and the finger-in-the-chili taught us nothing?”
But Sikes’ lawyer has stated Sikes is not interested in suing Toyota over the incident.
Toyota’s woes have mounted in recent weeks as the carmaker repeatedly expanded its recall of cars that could suffer from stuck accelerator pedals. Most recently, Orange County in California announced a lawsuit against the Japan-based company.
This video is from CBS’ Early Show, broadcast March 15, 2010.