EL CAJON — Before he called emergency dispatchers, James Sikes says he reached down with his hand to loosen the "stuck" accelerator on his 2008 Toyota Prius, his other hand on the steering wheel. The pedal didn't move.
"My car can't slow down," he began when a California Highway Patrol dispatcher answered his call.
Sikes, 61, rolled to a stop 23 harrowing minutes later, he and his blue Prius emerging unscathed but Toyota Motor Corp. suffering another big dent. Toyota has watched its reputation for quality crumble with recalls tied to risks that cars can accelerate uncontrollably or can't brake properly.
Todd Neibert, the CHP officer who gave instructions to Sikes over a loudspeaker as they went east on mountainous Interstate 8 in San Diego County Monday afternoon, said he smelled burning brakes when he caught up with the Prius.
The officer said he told Sikes to push the brake pedal to the floor and apply the emergency brakes as the Prius neared 85 mph (136 kph). The car slowed to about 55 mph (88 kph), at which time Sikes says he turned off the ignition and the car came to a stop.
"The brakes were definitely down to hardly any material," Neibert told reporters Tuesday. "There was a bunch of brake material on the ground and inside the wheels."
The officer found the floor mat properly placed and the accelerator and brake pedals in correct resting position.
The freeway incident happened at the worst possible time for Toyota — just hours after it invited reporters to hear experts insist that electronic flaws could not cause cars to speed out of control under real driving conditions.
Another driver in suburban New York told police Tuesday that her 2005 Toyota Prius accelerated on its own, then lurched down a driveway, across a road and into a stone wall. The driver, a 56-year-old woman, escaped serious injury. Police said the floor mat did not appear to be a factor; Toyota said it's not yet known whether the company will investigate.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has sent two investigators to examine Sikes' car. Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker is sending three of its own technicians to investigate.
Another Toyota spokesman, John Hanson, said the company wanted to talk to the driver.
Sikes' car was covered by Toyota's floor mat recall, but the driver said the pedal jammed and was not trapped under the mat.
Sikes, a real estate agent, said he was passing another car when the accelerator stuck and eventually reached 94 mph (151 kph).
During the two emergency calls, Sikes ignored many of the dispatcher's questions, saying later that he had to put his phone on the seat to keep his hands on the wheel.
Leighann Parks, a 24-year-old dispatcher, repeatedly told him to throw the car into neutral but got no answers.
"He was very emotional, you could tell on the line he was panicked," Parks told reporters outside the CHP's El Cajon office. "I could only imagine being in his shoes and being that stressed."