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Prius Gone Wild: Another Toyota Bucks Its Brakes

We're guessing at this point that Toyota wishes it never sold a single car in San Diego County. First, the tragic fatalities of California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor and three family members put Toyota's acceleration problems in the spotlight when the Los Angeles Times used the San Diego-area crash to highlight the car maker's emerging throttle issues last fall.

On Monday it happened again, but this time with a heroic outcome. James Sikes was driving a second-generation Prius on an eastern San Diego County freeway when, after nudging the accelerator to make a pass, the car took off despite his jamming the brake pedal. The vehicle reached 94 miles per hour at one point.

A CHP officer saved the day after responding to the 61-year-old's 911 call. Using the patrol unit's loudspeaker, the officer talked Sikes through the situation, telling him to use the emergency brake, then instructing him to cut the engine as the cop drove in front of the Prius to provide a potential backstop.

The hybrid came to a stop after 30 miles of sweat. The officer said he could smell the Prius' brakes, and the driver told reporters he could hear the pads wear down to metal.

Sikes said he had taken the Prius to an area dealer recently to see if it had been recalled. He said the dealership turned him away. The incident calls into question Toyota's claims that acceleration problems in its vehicles have to do with floor mats or faulty pedals. Many critics claim the problems are electronic.

"If it is not the floor mat, and it is not a sticky pedal, and it is not the driver, then what do you have?" Sean Kane, president of automotive consulting firm Safety Research & Strategies, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It is the electronic control on these vehicles. There is nothing but the electronic control."

This time the world was watching.