We first raised doubts about the financial motivations and character of Jim Sikes, the runaway Prius driver, last week. Now there's evidence, in a draft memorandum obtained by Jalopnik from sources familiar with the investigation, that Sikes perpetrated a hoax.
According to the memo (first referenced by the AP, but below, exclusively in its entirety), prepared for members of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, a thorough investigation of the Prius in question revealed that, while the brake pads on the car were worn down, technicians from both Toyota and NHTSA were unable to duplicate the unintended acceleration Sikes claims.
Although unable to duplicate the unintended acceleration, investigators were, however, able to test the brake override system installed on the Prius on both the Sikes car and a test vehicle of the same year. The memo states:
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. NHTSA and Toyota field representatives reported the same results with the 2008 Prius owned by Mr. Sikes.
Further, a representative of Toyota present at the investigation stated the design of the Prius is such that applying maximum negative force (via the brakes) and positive force (via acceleration) would have such an impact on a car the engine would seize up, which didn't happen:
According to Mr. David Justo, Toyota Motor Sales HQ, I was informed that he is Toyota's residential Hybrid expert, he stats "that if MG2 (gas pedal is to the floor, creating positive force) and the driver puts the brake MG1 (creating negative force) then the engine would shut down. If the engine does not shut down then the gears would be spinning pat their maximum revolutions per minute and completely seize the engine. So, in this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time".
"These findings certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events that has been reported by Mr. Sikes," said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Darrell Issa (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who was present at the investigation.
More damning than even this memo is a story yesterday from The Wall Street Journal citing three people familiar with the investigation claiming they discovered a pattern of brake wear on the car inconsistent with the account from Mr. Sikes. That's a much more telling data point than even that found in this memo, and if correct, further bolsters any claims against Mr. Sikes' story. We've yet to see the full reports from Toyota or NHTSA, though we're certain both are forthcoming.
Still trust Sikes? Let's look at a well-known meta-theoretical principle known as "Occam's" Razor. The theory, attributed to 14th Century English theologian and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham, states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." i.e., that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.
Given this memo indicates Toyota was not to blame in this very public case of unintended acceleration, the choices available to us are that Toyota has ghosts in the machine that can't be rooted out (highly improbable), the seemingly competent Jim Sikes wasn't willing to obey simple commands like "put the car into neutral" out of unstated-at-the-time fears the "car would flip" (highly improbable), or that this was a hoax perpetrated by a financially strapped Mr. Sikes (probable). What would Friar Ockham say?