James Sikes and His Toyota Prius Acceleration Problem: Too Much Hollywood Script?

The latest California driver to loose control of his Prius seems just a little too media savvy and attention hungry.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on BestCashCow that Toyota is entering a death spiral.  I continue to think that Toyota's problems are real and are just beginning.  Their refusal to address the sudden acceleration issue as an electronics problem - instead opting to satiate customers by moving the pedals around - is doing dramatic damage to the brand from which the company will never recover.  To boot, Toyota was, as I predicted, poorly prepared in front of Congress two weeks ago.  I drive a Lexus.  My next car will be an Infiniti.

Putting the marketing damage aside, I am amazed by the parallels between this case and the Ford Pinto cases in the 1970s which led to the development of product liability tort law in the US.  We give large product liability awards in the US in order to stop manufucturers from putting low values on human lives and producing products that may kill people.  That gets manufacturers to fix problems rather than than treat them as inconsequential.  A couple of large awards will take down Toyota.  I am short Toyota stock and long very long-dated Toyota puts.

But this situation two nights ago with James Sikes and his Prius is really bugging me.  It seems like the guy is piling on to a news story.  He was too prepared to go straight to the media.  He called 911 before trying to pull the emergency brake.  Sikes, according to published reports, is a 61-year old real estate executive and longtime lottery player who won $55,000 and was selected in 2006 to appear on a California Lottery TV game show.  This smells to me like a washed up Californian angling to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit or to be on the Amazing Race 18.

If it happened in Iowa or Kansas maybe I'd believe it, but these days anything coming out of California just seems scripted for Hollywood.

Jason Rodgers
Jason Rodgers: Jason Rodgers was an experienced research analyst for a major bank prior to retiring to run his own investment consultancy in beautiful Lihue, Hawaii. Jason contributed articles to BestCashCow from 2008 to 2014.

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  • Steven Ragsdale

    March 10, 2010

    As soon as it came Channel 6 broke the news on Monday, I turned to my wife and said this guy is the latest Hollywood actor.

  • D.L. Moore

    March 10, 2010

    I agree with you -- punitive damages will get Toyota's attention allright, but likely, it will be too late for their American business.

    I disagree with you regarding the runaway Prius call being staged.

    If you listen to the entire 24 minute 911 call, and you hear the fear in the driver's voice, and his reaction when it finally was over -- you'll understand that this was not a faked event:


  • Mike

    March 11, 2010

    I think your right. I just read he refused to put the car in neutral, as directed by the police officer, because he was afraid he'd flip. I'm guessing his life is going to get very crappy if he staged this. For his sake i hope he isn't lying.

  • Mike

    March 11, 2010

    Jim Sikes?.....The name sounded familiar to me, then it clicked. He was the owner of a foreclosed home that we were trying to buy last year in Bonita, a suburb of San Diego.
    That in-of-itself is not enough to question someone's character, but the fact that he gutted the ENTIRE kitchen out of this 4,000 ft custom home certainly is! They stole EVERYTHING before moving out. Appliances, cabinets, granite countertops....even the lights!
    What made it even more pathetic at the time was we learned that he and his wife were pretty well known local realtors whom you'd think would be above such sleazy shenanigans.
    I'm tempted to contact Toyota corporate and have them scrutinize this joker carefully.

  • Gary

    March 11, 2010

    To Mike:

    Your last comment says a lot about Sikes, and if this is the case, then we may increase the liklihood that this is another scam, and that he wants to enjoin the pending Class-Action law suit against Toyota. Of course, there could also be some other "factors" that contributed to Sikes unwillingness to put the Prius in neutral. If this guy conspired (with others) to stage this matter, then it could turn out to be more of a legal defense for Toyota than harm.

  • Anonymous

    March 11, 2010

    sound and looks like a hatchet job from gm

  • Julius

    March 11, 2010

    Not saying there isn't a problem with some Toyota and Lexus models but this case seems very odd.

    Video shows how easy it is to pop Prius into neutral from high speed:


    The breaks are also built to override the throttle:

  • Former Co-Worker

    March 11, 2010

    James Sikes and his wife Patty are former co-workers at a real estate brokerage I worked at in Bonita, CA (Realty Executives Premier now Coldwell Banker Premier). They are sleazy operators and were let go after numerous complaints and warnings due to their under handed and under cutting tactics they used on other agents in our brokerage. They have no scruples and a lousy reputation. It seems to me that James also has a prior law enforcement background. That would be very interesting to check out. As soon as I heard his name my scam radar turned on.

  • DanS

    March 11, 2010

    This is brilliant! It is so obvious when you think about it. This is so clearly a scam? Why hasn't the mainstream media picked up on it?

  • Former Co-Worker

    March 11, 2010

    After further investigation with the California Department of Real Estate licensee status check, http://www2.dre.ca.gov/PublicASP/pplinfo.asp , James Sikes is a licensed real estate agent but is not listed with any brokerage. His wife Patricia though is listed with a broker and James uses the address for mail. His web site gives the consumer the impression that they are both affiliated real estate agents; his picture and DRE number are present (he does have a current license) and in fact he does the narration. Agents (salespersons), unless they are brokers and James is not, need to be affiliated with a broker in California otherwise they are limited to what they can do in an agent capacity. I wonder why he does not hang his license with the wife's broker. It could be they are acting in a shadow capacity and sharing MLS and association fees which is in my opinion, not ethical or fair to other agents. It also may limit consumer protections and expose the broker legally.

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