By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The site's automotive writer, Joe Benton, wrote about unintended acceleration for the first time in the summer of 2007, telling the story of a woman in Everett, Washington, whose Prius took off while she was on the interstate and wouldn't slow down even as she repeatedly pumped the brakes.
Hood received hate mail from Prius owners when the negative story was posted.
"They're zealots and religious about their cars," Hood says. "Quite honestly, we don't give a damn about anything. If people want to drive those things, fine by us, but our job is to criticize and nitpick."
Then the other horror stories rolled in.
One came from Richard Bacon, a Tacoma, Washington, resident who wrote, "This week our 2008 Prius tried to kill me twice." Bacon's Prius died while he was driving up his snowy driveway, causing him to slide into oncoming traffic "that just missed hitting me broadside."
Then he was driving with his wife, merging into traffic at 45 mph, and he crossed over a patch of snow. The Prius locked up, and Bacon lost control and skidded toward a 30-foot drop down the side of the road. "Only a snowbank kept my wife and me from serious injury or death," he wrote.
Toyota recalled the floor mats about two months after the first story from Hood's website. From a company news release: "If properly secured, the All Weather Floor Mat will not interfere with the accelerator pedal. Suggested opportunities to check are after filling the vehicle's tank with gasoline, after a carwash or interior cleaning, or before driving the vehicle. Under no circumstances should more than one floor mat ever be used in the driver's seating position: the retaining hooks are designed to accommodate only one floor mat at a time."
New Times found just one person currently in litigation with Toyota concerning unintended acceleration. Hours after Art Robinson purchased his 2005 Prius in Tacoma, Washington, the car began to handle funny, and as he was driving back to the dealership, the car took off. Robinson stomped on the brake and the emergency brake, but the car wouldn't slow down. He exited the freeway and shot through an intersection safely but then lost control and drove through a convenience store. Robinson escaped before the Prius and the building burst into flames. Robinson wouldn't comment, saying his lawyer has advised him not to. But he told a Seattle news station: "It happened so fast I didn't have time to be scared then." A Toyota spokeswoman confirmed the lawsuit, declining to comment further.
Lupe Egusquiza of Tustin, California, was waiting in a line of cars in September 2007 to pick up her daughter from school. She says her Prius suddenly took off and crashed into the school's brick wall. Egusquiza reported $14,000 worth of damage to her car.
Stacey Josefowicz of Anthem, Arizona, bought her new Prius in May 2007. A couple of months later, driving down a four-lane highway toward a stoplight, she claims she stepped on the brakes but nothing happened. She freaked, then weaved into a turning lane, coasting to a Target parking lot with the brake pedal jammed to the floor. A Toyota technician told her she ran out of gas, but she says there was fuel in the car. Still, he returned her Prius to her with no repairs. A month later, she sped through a stop sign after the brakes went out again. "I think they thought, 'She's a woman driver — she obviously let the car run out of gas,' " Josefowicz says. "Thank God I didn't get killed or cause an accident; it would have been on their head."
Herbert Kuehn of Battle Creek, Michigan, sped out of control in his Prius in October 2005 on a highway before he "labored" the car to a stop on the gravel shoulder of the road. He was so scared of his Prius that he stopped driving it but "under good conscience did not feel that I could sell it."
Ted James, a middle-school math teacher from Eagle, Colorado, received a $10,000 Toyota Time grant that was given to 35 math teachers around the country to develop inventive programs. In 2002, Toyota paid for James, along with the other winners, to travel to the company's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, California, and talk about their projects. During a lunch break one day, Toyota executives introduced the group to the Prius.
"I thought they were the coolest thing ever," James says. He and his wife, Elizabeth, who teaches at an elementary school, bought their first Prius three years later.
On August 10, 2006, Elizabeth was driving the car east on Interstate 70 toward Denver to catch an early-morning flight. Near the small town of Lawson, she pressed the brakes to slow down, and when she let off the pedal, the Prius took off. Elizabeth tried the brakes. Then the emergency brake. Nothing.
When Elizabeth glanced down, the speedometer displayed 90 mph and the Prius was rocketing toward a car in the slow lane. Gripping the steering wheel with both hands, Elizabeth whipped around that car along the shoulder of the interstate, exited the Lawson ramp, ran a stop sign, passed a couple of people walking in the road and steered into a grassy field when the feeder cut to the left.