"She said she felt like the pilot of a plane that was trying to crash-land," Ted James says. "So she was looking for a place to crash the car, and that was one of the things that was really tough: She thought she was going to die and had enough time to think about it."

The Prius sped through a wooded area, clipped a weather-monitoring shed, flipped, and landed in a river. Elizabeth survived the wreck, but her legs and back got banged up.

After the crash, Ted James sought to have Toyota pay Elizabeth's $15,000 in medical bills. They also wanted Toyota to examine their wrecked car.

Bobette Riner had her Prius for a couple months before it took off and died, leaving her stranded on the side of the road. Now she's stuck with a car she's afraid to drive.
Daniel Kramer
Bobette Riner had her Prius for a couple months before it took off and died, leaving her stranded on the side of the road. Now she's stuck with a car she's afraid to drive.
Elizabeth James was driving on the interstate when her Prius accelerated out of control near Lawson, Colorado. She crashed through a forest and ended up in a river.
Elizabeth James
Elizabeth James was driving on the interstate when her Prius accelerated out of control near Lawson, Colorado. She crashed through a forest and ended up in a river.

Toyota's response was, in fact, minimal. In a letter to James, the company blamed the problem on excessive brake wear, stating, "We are sure she believes that her vehicle accelerated on its own; but our inspection of her vehicle did not reveal any evidence to support her allegations."

"You'd think Toyota would be interested in how their car functioned in that crash," Ted James says. "My wife's brother and sister owned Priuses, and we were really worried that this could happen to someone else. Toyota's whole reaction was really disconcerting. It was like, 'Deny everything.' "

Like most Prius owners, Elizabeth denies that she was mistaken about where the brake pedal is. At the same time, they're not looking to sue; they say they just want an explanation and a fair deal.

As Ted James puts it: "We're not the kind of people to go through a lawsuit, and it's not in our nature. Our concern was that no one else got hurt, that Toyota own up to its problem."

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