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Is James Sikes and His Prius the Latest "Balloon Boy" Story?

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James Sikes' Toyota Prius (CBS News photo)

By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

Last week, just after Toyota staged a live video demonstration that utterly destroyed the ridiculous tests conducted by Sean Kane and Professor Gilbert; we were all treated to the latest Toyota SUA (sudden unintended acceleration) story.

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James Sikes at post-event press conference (CBS News photo)
This one involved a San Diego man, James Sikes, who claimed his vehicle accelerated on its own to speeds over 90 miles per hour. When driving at this speed, Mr. Sikes called 911 and excitedly informed the operator of what was happening. Reportedly, the operator asked if Sikes tried putting the vehicle in neutral. A short while later a CHP car pulled up alongside Sikes and tried to get him to do different things to slow the vehicle down, such as turning off the engine, shifting to neutral, applying foot brake and emergency brakes, etc.

That evening I read a news report that stated that Sikes had told the Highway Patrol officer that he tried putting the car in neutral but that it didn't help. I'm sure all my neighbors should hear me hooting about this. However, in a CNN story the next day, the audio recording of Sikes conversation with 911 clearly had him telling the operator that he did not try putting the vehicle in neutral. Subsequent stories have Mr. Sikes saying that he didn't try neutral because he didn't want to overturn the car. I don't know if he really said that, but the idea that he might have is as funny as if he said that he put the car in neutral and nothing happened.

Alright, alright. So over the last couple of days we've learned from other news stories that Sikes apparently declared bankruptcy in 2008, and that he owes about $700,000; which includes many payments on his Toyota Prius. At a press conference, Sikes lawyer said that Sikes would not be suing Toyota for the wild ride. The lawyer didn't say what the grounds for a suit might be, since no one was injured and no damage was done to the car, just that he wasn't going to sue. The news reporter did have the presence of mind to rhetorically ask why Sikes would hire an attorney to make a public announcement that he wasn't going to sue.

The latest, latest stories now say that government investigators can find absolutely no reason why the vehicle accelerated out of control and that the brakes do not show the wear and tear that might have resulted if Sikes tried to apply both the foot brake and emergency brake to bring the vehicle to a stop.

Here is what I speculate happened, and I base this entirely on having absolutely no knowledge of Jim Sikes, his family, his finances and the situation outside of reading/watching the same stories that everyone else has been exposed to: I think this was a half-hearted attempt to kill or injure himself and to lay the groundwork - should he be successful - for his wife to be able to sue Toyota. I think he was unlucky enough to be driving on a road that didn't present the right kind of obstacles to assist him in his quest. Now before you get all upset at my suggestion that this was a suicide attempt, let me remind you that suicide-by-stupid-driving is not unheard of or terribly uncommon. So, there it is, I said what I believe is what others have been thinking.

My guess is that the next story we’ll be hearing is that Mr. Sikes is seeking some form of mental/emotional counseling and that he’ll be arraigned on charges not too dissimilar from those pressed on the Balloon Boy’s parents. But this is just my opinion.