Toyota denies runaway Prius

SAN DIEGO – Toyota dismissed the story of a man who claimed his Prius sped out of control on the California freeway, saying Monday that its own tests found the car’s gas pedal and backup safety system were working just fine.

The automaker stopped short of saying James Sikes had staged a hoax last week but said his account did not square with a series of tests it conducted on the gas-electric hybrid.

Toyota said its own testing found Sikes had rapidly pressed the gas and brakes back and forth more than 250 times. The company had no explanation for why he might do such a thing but said the car’s front brakes were shot.

“We have no opinion on his account, what he’s been saying, other than that the scenario is not consistent with the technical findings,” spokesman Mike Michels said at a press conference.

The March 8 episode was among the highest-profile headaches Toyota has suffered in recent months. It recalled more than 8 million cars and trucks worldwide because gas pedals can become stuck in the down position or be snagged by floor mats. Dozens of Toyota drivers have reported problems even after their cars were supposedly fixed.

Sikes had said his car raced to 94 mph on a freeway near San Diego. He called 911, but did not respond to instructions from the dispatcher to shut off the engine or throw the car into neutral.

A California Highway Patrol officer ultimately helped bring the car safely to a stop. Sikes spoke to reporters shortly after the incident.

Toyota said it had conducted two days of tests on the car last week. It found severe wear and damage on the front brakes from overheating, but the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition.

A statement from Sikes’ attorney, John H. Gomez, said the firm would not comment further on the episode until a government investigation was complete.