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Runaway Toyota Prius: Feds say they can't explain

Federal government officials said they can't explain why a Toyota Prius suddenly accelerated last week.

By Elliot Spagat, Ken ThomasAssociated Press / March 15, 2010

A California Highway Patrol vehicle and a Toyota Prius owned by James Sikes are shown stopped on the side of a freeway in San Diego in this video frame grab obtained March 9, 2010. Toyota said its own inspectors are also working to try to find out what caused the 2008 Prius to surge uncontrollably to over 90 miles per hour as it was being driven by owner Sikes.

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Washington, DC

The federal government said Monday it cannot explain a reported incident of sudden, high-speed acceleration in a Toyota Prius on a San Diego freeway and acknowledged it may not be able to solve the mystery of what happened to the hybrid.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said its engineers continue to investigate and are reviewing data from the Prius owned by James Sikes to try to understand what led to last week's high-speed incident. But so far, NHTSA says it has not been able to find anything to explain what Sikes reported.

"We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car," NHTSA said in a statement.

Inspectors tried during a two-hour test drive to duplicate the acceleration, but couldn't do so.

Sikes called 911 last Monday to report losing control of his Prius as the hybrid reached speeds of 94 mph. A highway patrol officer helped bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

Though no one was injured, dramatic footage of the incident captured by local television stations captivated the nation, quickly becoming a high-profile headache for Toyota, which like NHTSA sent in an engineering team to investigate.

John Gomez, an attorney for Sikes, said the failure to repeat the incident is insignificant and not surprising.

"They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration. Mr. Sikes never had a problem in the three years he owned this vehicle," he said Sunday.

But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., suggested the failure to duplicate the stuck accelerator, along with a vehicle design to prevent such occurrences, raises questions about Sikes' story.

"It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but let's understand, it doesn't mean it did happen," Issa said on CBS' "Early Show."

Toyota Motor Corp. planned to announce preliminary findings of its investigation at a news conference Monday in San Diego.

NHTSA is looking into claims from more than 60 Toyota owners that their vehicles continue to accelerate unexpectedly despite having their vehicles repaired.

Technicians with the NHTSA and Toyota could not duplicate what Sikes said he experienced March 8 on a mountainous but lightly traveled stretch of Interstate 8 east of San Diego, according to a congressional staffer's memo prepared for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"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 memo read.

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