Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Toyota Prius, Assumptions, and an Imperfect Witness

"Man at Wheel of 'Out-of-Control' Prius Has Troubled Financial Past"
FOXNews (March 12, 2010)

"The man who became the face of the Toyota gas pedal scandal this week has a troubled financial past that is leading some to question whether he was wholly truthful in his story.

"On Monday, James Sikes called 911 to report that he was behind the wheel of an out-of-control Toyota Prius going 94 mph on a freeway near San Diego. Twenty-three minutes later, a California Highway Patrol officer helped guide him to a stop, a rescue that was captured on videotape.

"Since then, it's been learned that:

"- Sikes filed for bankruptcy in San Diego in 2008. According to documents, he was more than $700,000 in debt and roughly five months behind in payments on his Prius;

"- In 2001, Sikes filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff's Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a digital video camera and equipment and $24,000 in cash;

"- Sikes has hired a law firm, though it has indicated he has no plans to sue Toyota;

"- Sikes won $55,000 on television's 'The Big Spin' in 2006, reports, and the real estate agent has boasted of celebrity clients such as Constance Ramos of 'Extreme Home Makeover.'

"While authorities say they don't doubt Sikes' account, several bloggers and a man who bought a home from Sikes in 2007 question whether the 61-year-old entrepreneur may have concocted the incident for publicity or for monetary gain...."

This sort of situation is one of the reasons why I don't mind investigators collecting evidence and analyzing facts: methodically, 'by the numbers.' What does seem rather certain is that Mr. Sikes was driving a Toyota Prius, that it reached speeds above 90 miles an hour, and that he emerged from the experience unscathed.

Looking at that last paragraph in the excerpt again:

"...While authorities say they don't doubt Sikes' account, several bloggers and a man who bought a home from Sikes in 2007 question whether the 61-year-old entrepreneur may have concocted the incident for publicity or for monetary gain...."

I remember the 'good old days,' some of them not all that far back, when someone in law enforcement went public with the assertion that someone was responsible for a crime. And was alternatively-correct. Sometimes the falsely-accused person was able to put his or her life back together, afterward.

Yeah: I can live with 'due process.' I'm not a patient man, but I'd just as soon trade a bit of fretting for a better shot at accurate results.

Mr. Sikes clearly handles more money than I do on a regular basis, but many Americans do. He reported stolen property, and the amount was about equal to what I paid for the house I live in. Well, some people own valuable jewelry and equipment. Sometimes it gets stolen. If - and that's a big if - Mr. Sikes was unwise enough to have been attempting insurance fraud, that would affect how believable his statements were. Being a victim of theft does not, however, make a person a liar.

As for the idea that only guilty people hire lawyers? I don't buy that. My first impulse wouldn't be to call my publicist, or hire a law firm - but I'm not in the same socioeconomic strata as Mr. Sikes. Not by a long shot.

And with a complex situation that Mr. Sikes was in, after that high-speed ride, hiring a lawyer might make good sense. Remember: he was, technically at least, exceeding the speed limit. That's illegal. Even if there was something wrong with his car, there's the possibility that some hotshot with Toyota would sue him for (allegedly) not properly maintaining his Prius, and thus tarnishing Toyota's reputation.

Crazy? I think so: but the state of America's legal system is a whole different topic.

In My Considered Option: I Don't Know What Happened

So, in my opinion, the authorities have said that they don't doubt Sikes' account, that Mr. Sikes was in a Toyota Prius that was going really, really fast: and that we don't know why that happened.

Someone may know what really happened: but I certainly don't.

If this is another malfunction - I hope that the Toyota Motor Company finds out what went wrong. Not just in the vehicles: what went so horribly wrong in the design and/or manufacturing process.

Toyota had a reputation for making well-engineered vehicles. I hope that Aiko Toyoda's company can re-build that reputation.

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