By on March 12, 2010

Two days ago, Ed Niedermeyer received a tip from an anonymous tipster that James Sikes, the guy who couldn’t stop his runaway Prius until a cop pulled up next to him and told him to, is, well, a bit exposed.

The tipster pointed out that a James Sikes had also started a business called Adultswinglife, LLC. A look at the phone numbers showed that Adult Swing Life LLC (619) 957-7355 shared the same phone number as the real estate business of Patty & Jim Sikes (619)-957-7355. We left it at that. Times are rough, and one needs to find extra streams of income.

A few hours later, an anonymous poster that went by the name “CincyJazzy” posted on the CBS news website that Sikes “is caught in 2 attempts to defraud his insurance company out of $60K, Just lost his house, and was fired for ‘unethical behavior’, in the middle of bankruptcy, and now this.” No reaction from CBS.

Then, nothing. Until ...Yesterday, Jalopnik was on the story. First, they had not much else to report than the swinger site. One of the Jalopnik commenters pointed out that Jalopnik has “a sibling site” called Fleshbot (definitely NSFW), so who’s to throw the first stone? That didn’t deter the Jalops. They kept on digging.

Through adroit use of Google, they found that someone had posted on Hobbub.com that in a foreclosed house, previously owned by a Jim and Patti Sikes, ”before giving possession back to the bank ‘someone’ stole the ENTIRE kitchen out of the house……….Granite countertops, cabinets, appliances and even the lights!”

Jalopnik decided that something was fishy, and, Fleshbot be damned, they called up their colleagues at Gawker. They fired up their public records search engine – and found a – by Jalopnik standards – morass of incriminating information about Sikes.

This led to the Jalopnik headline “Did Bankrupt Runaway Prius Driver Fake “Unintended Acceleration?” They unearthed a bankruptcy filing that allegedly (it was redacted) said that the Sikes “have a combined liability of over $700,000 dollars in debt.” According to the document, Toyota Financial Services was named as a creditor to the tune of $20,494, owed at the time of bankruptcy. Jalopnik contrasted this to an email they received from Jim Sikes that claims “we are and have always been up to date on all payments.”

Then, Jalopnik heard “rumors that Sikes has a history of items in his possession being stolen and him filing for insurance claims.” The bankruptcy documents named a saxophone and clothes, stolen from a car (of unnamed provenance) with a value of $2500, and an insurance payment of $7.500.

After that, all hell broke loose. Fox News “uncovered a new business that Sikes appears to have started: the website AdultSwingLife.com.” (Well, they didn’t uncover it, it was the anonymous tipster, but hey, it’s Fox.) We would have expected some on-premises candid camera work, but no. Fox did their own internet search and found more dirt on Sikes:

“In 2001, Sikes filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a prosumer mini-DV camera and gear, and $24,000 in cash.” Sikes seems to be a victim type.

Fox found “a neighbour near Sikes’ former home in Atwater” who said “I’m not surprised [if] he’d try to get money.”

Fox also found “a spokesperson with Toyota” who told FOX40 News “they’re aware of Sikes’ background.” (Hmmmmmm.)

The breathtaking piece of investigative reporting brings Fox to the conclusion: “While the California Highway Patrol doesn’t question his story, bloggers and radio listeners are wondering whether this is another ‘balloon boy’ style hoax, done for the publicity or the money.”

Ever since, speculations of a hoax by a couple with a salacious sidebusiness are all over the web and social network sites. What took them so long? (Hat tip to Jalopkink: In 10 minutes on Public Records, they found more than Fox in a day.)

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51 Comments on “FOX: Is Sikes A Balloon Boy?...”


  • avatar
    VLAD

    Special link for Bertel.
    Amazing discovery.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      This should become Toyota’s new instructional video for new buyers. Love it!

    • 0 avatar

      The preliminary results from the NHTSA / Toyota investigation are already in – there is no evidence of unintended acceleration whatsoever (according to my source) – they found him taking his foot on and off the brake and how hard he pushed on it among many other things- come on guys get on this – it was posted on carquestions YouTube channel yesterday

    • 0 avatar

      March 17, 9:03 p.m. – Carquestions reports – The NewYork Prius investigation preliminary results are in – and……brake is 0% accelerator pedal 99.9% – The local Sheriff has all the details and copies of the investigators evidence. He seems rather unimpressed that there is not more to the story according to witnesses of the investigation

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    I knew it would come to this the first time I heard his statement in front of the cameras. Technically it just didn’t ad up…

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    Ja, wir verstehen. Haben Sie keine lieben Jalopnik. Es ist nicht für Jedermann!

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Isn’t Sikes getting a little old to swing? I guess Viagra makes miracles possible.

    Even though Sikes is clearly as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, judging from his confused appearance, I’m still not ruling out the “senior moment” explanation – you can be a thief AND senile. The age of the Toyota SUA victims have clearly skewed toward significantly older than the age of the average buyers of the affected models (which themselves don’t exactly attract a youthful crowd – Camry and Lexus have become the new Olds/Cadillac for the senior crowd). This is what puts the whole software bug/tin whiskers/radio interference/short circuit explanation into major doubt – an electronic gremlin would not distinguish among the age of the drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I would agree with your statements except that Buick buyers don’t seem to experience this problem at nearly the same rate. Also, it does seem to happen to different models at different rates. If age was the factor, all brands should be effected the same according to the average age of the buyer. This isn’t the case.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      It would be interesting to find out how long these people had owned their Toyotas, and whether this was their first Toyota.

      During the Audi 5000 fiasco in the 1980s, it was pointed out that many of the owners had migrated from highline GM cars – Buick, Olds and Cadillac. They were getting into trouble with the Audi because the position of the brake pedal and accelerator were different than what they were used to in their GM cars.

      The result was a high occurrence of “unintended acceleration” incidents in Audis and not too many incidents involving GM cars, even though the demographics often overlapped.

      The Buick owners are more likely to have owned several GM cars (people like my parents, who have been loyal to GM since 1968). I would imagine that Toyota is much more likely to “conquest” sales from other brands than GM is, especially Buick. (This may change with the Enclave and the NEW LaCrosse…anybody have unintended acceleration figures for those vehicles?).

      Unless GM has dramatically changed the brake-accelerator pedal relationship with each new car, I would imagine current GM owners are much more likely to be familiar with GM cars in general than Toyota owners are to be familiar with Toyotas, and this is doubly true for Buicks.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Middle-agers and seniors are more likely to swing than people aged 25-40. They have more free time, more money and no children getting in the way. They also have more privacy and less hangups than those under 25.

      It’s the same reason people 25-40 tend to have sex less than those on either side of their demographic. After working ten hours a day, fretting about your mortgage and having your one-year old puke on you, who feels like getting their bone on?

      Disclosure: I’m 30-something, and spent most of today having my one-year old puke on me.

  • avatar
    dougw

    I was suspicious when I read he said he feared the car would flip over if he put it in neutral…and he was wearing a Corvette Owner’s jacket! Any car lover would never say such a stupid thing. Also, his statement that he simply shut it off after he got down to 55mph….why not do this at speed, especially since he could evidently dial 911 at the time? And, finally, the policeman noticed the guy had his rear end up off the seat pushing on the brakes which was reminiscent of the balloon boy father’s pathetic overacting.

    He seemed too pleased to be talking to the media.

    Makes you appreciate true actors. I hope they cook this guy.

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      Hehe,
      For all we know… he stole the jacket.

      I read the article above, no mention of ANY Vette…

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      @Accazdatch

      Its in that Fox40 video linked on the OP (around the 2:11 mark of the video).

      Fox contacted the Corvette Club and they acknowledged he was a member, and the club was “embarrassed he couldn’t handle” a Prius.

      Also, the AP confirmed that the car Sikes drove had a brake-override system. So its an obvious hoax, he would have only needed to hit the brakes to stop the car.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    PS What the Sikes incident shows is that even more than brake pedal override, what Toyota really needs is a decent data logging capability. If Toyota could play back the throttle and brake positions for Sike’s wild ride (and prove that he was flooring the gas the whole time and never touched the brake) this would stop the me-toos dead. All the unbelievable “there’s a gremlin in the machine” crap could be made to go away if they could just play back the black box and show what was really going on. Adding this kind of capability to the ECM would cost next to nothing and they wouldn’t have the whole mysterious “unable to replicate in the lab” problem.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      Posted above is the statement AP confirmed the Sike’s Prius has the brake override.

      If that’s the case, it makes it a little harder to burn up the brakes so at the end of his joy ride they are totally totally fried.

      The data recorder would show hard acceleraton, followed by hard braking, followeed by hard acceleration, followed by hard braking, followed by hard acceleration, followed by hard braking, followed by hard acceleration, followed by hard braking, followed by hard acceleration, followed by hard braking, followed by hard acceleration…

      You get the picture.

  • avatar
    VLAD

    Amazing if the data logging capability shows up in Court and the UAW – current administration lovers – freeloaders are publicly unmasked.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    Why are you surprised by Fox being unable to perform investigative journalism. They had 8 years of Bush/Cheney and were unable/unwilling to expose fraud.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    Corvette Owners group disowned this guy’s no-driving ass. That’s just funny right there.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    As I said on the other thread about this Sikes is either a con man or a moron or both. It appears both. His story never made any sense.

  • avatar
    Ron Orr

    You can get automotive data logging for $90 (CarChip Pro)that plugs into the OBDII port. The previous 300 hours of parameters including throttle position are stored for download to a PC. The CarChip is available at Amazon.

    Toyota’s story about their extremely limited download capability strikes me as BS as you have to wonder how they developed and tested their computer software without a lot of downloading debugging data from their computers.

    • 0 avatar

      If it sells for $90, then it should cost around $4.50 to build.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Assume that, for the purposes of testing, they spliced the gear in during the test process. Why would they ship all that gear in a production car after testing is complete? That $10 comprehensive EDR, spread across everything Toyota sells over a year would eat millions of dollars.

      I have relate this back to computers. The only systems I deal with that have comprehensive, reliable self-diagnostics in production models are servers, network gear and workstations that cost a lot of money and, more importantly, are sold for a large margin. Commodity gear is tested in a lab, but that testing hardware and software won’t make the cut, not when the margin is a few bucks and volumes are hundreds of times what the pro gear does.

    • 0 avatar

      Your right – there is a bit of BS – on the Prius you can get much more info than from a Chev cdr – they know how many times he stepped on the brake and how hard.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    older guy…. check
    thick of neck… check
    gold chain… check
    short of pecker… probably

    I suspect he is a Corvette driver…

  • avatar
    Becomethemedia

    The minute he offered himself up for interviews was the minute my BS detector started going off.
    Just a friendly word of advice to any would be fraudsters out there. Before executing your plan make goddamn sure your background – and those of everyone around you,past or present – is clean as can be.
    Trust me, the minute you expose yourself to TV cameras, people are going to start digging up your past and nothing will be left out.
    Possession, trespassing, drunk in public, shoplifting, indecent exposure,joined some dumb group/cult or posted stupid comments online,etc, whatever it is will be found and will go viral.
    The internet and 24 hour news cycles have made this possible and I’m amazed at these people who court the spotlight for whatever reason only to be burned so badly in the process. The idiot father who came up with the balloon boy hoax is a prime example of this.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    If your background is free of possession, trespassing, drunk in public, shoplifting, indecent exposure,joined some dumb group/cult or posted stupid comments online,etc, you’re not likely to suddenly go in for mainstream public fraud. You have to start small and work your way up.

  • avatar
    Mailbox20

    Has anyone seen the cruiser cam video? Is it available? Wouldn’t that help determine if he was standing on the brakes?

    • 0 avatar
      thirty-three

      The cop said that he could smell the overheated brakes, but that is something Sikes could have done deliberately.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      What are the chances a ‘vette owner would know how to totally smoke the brakes in a vehicle with a brake-throttle interlock system?

      It may have been the talk of using a spike-strip more than anything else that brought this to a halt.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I listened to Sikes’ phone call and tended to believe his version of events. However during his phone call he said he could smell his brakes. My experiences have been that people can never smell their own overheated brakes, even at low speed, unless they stop. The airstream carries the smell away. Otherwise, people would stop right away if they smelled overheating brakes. And they don’t.

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    If this guy was conjuring up a scheme and had 20 minutes until the CHP got to him it wouldn’t have been too hard to get the brakes cooking.

    A couple dozen slow down-speed up events in quick succession would get the brakes nice and toasty and would provide the “flashing brake lights” the officer claimed he saw. Putting a couple clicks on the emergency brake for 20 minutes would certainly get the back binders burning.

    The Prius has had a brake override system since at least 2004, the car is stupid-easy to put into neutral, and this guy certainly seems to have a series of prior actions that would raise an eyebrow. Perfect recipe for a hoax.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Following the Sikes saga is alot like bare feet on HOT asphalt:

    OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!

  • avatar
    rudiger

    While it’s not 100%, the probability that Sikes is Balloon Boy 2 seems likely to be up in the nineties.

    Ironically, if true, this is one of the best things that could happen for Toyota. If they’re smart, now is the time they’ll clam-up, let the media and court system rip Sikes a new one for his little ploy, with Toyota ultimately coming out as a victim.

  • avatar
    asapuntz

    The Sikes story is followed by a basic test of the Prius’ ability to stop in a (simulated) stuck-accelerator scenario. Brakes, transmission, and ignition all performed as expected.

    The reporter confused the transmission “Park” button with a parking brake, which I believe is of the ratcheting-pedal/cable variety.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    It will be interesting if they start looking into his cell phone calls, his wifes, and their internet accounts and emails over the 2 weeks previous … if there is fire behind this smoke, there will be something found in these communication channels.

    And if they find something, I hope they nail his ass!

  • avatar
    mcs

    The is a little more vehicle history in his bankruptcy filing:

    1. 2007 AMG SL55 that was repossessed 3/08 worth $122,000.
    2. 2004 Harley Heritage Edition sold for 14k
    3. 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser sold for $10,000
    4. Two 2005 Vespa Motor Scooters sold for $1500 each
    5. 2007 Dodge Ram
    6. 2005 Monaco Motorhome – property returned to seller 5/08 worth 179,871.00
    7. 2003 Sea Ray Yacht – returned to seller 2/08 worth $160,000

    The Prius was leased and due to expire 12/2010

  • avatar
    CatFan78

    Definitely a hoax. I wonder when we’ll see this reported on NBC, ABC, and the LA Times? Probably never.

    History will show just like with the Audi incidents, most of this is driver error.

  • avatar
    Happy_Endings

    Let’s see. Sikes has made previous false police reports, he’s made suspect insurance claims, he’s had theft and fraud allegations, and he’s filed for bankruptcy. He’s $19K behind in payments on the Prius and $700K in debt overall. It is a 100%, no doubt about it hoax now.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    Well in some News articles and Car shows, it still shows that the Prius was a run a way, I get the distinct impression that anything about Toyota sticks like shit! I suspect none of the large broadcasters will ever report the Truth, that’s why we have this site, its really too bad and should not Toyota do something about this report?

  • avatar
    mcs

    According to the bankruptcy filing, it looks like he ran up debt on 17 credit cards. Some of the larger amounts:

    Citi $27,965.00
    Citi $10,124.00
    Discover $4,150.00
    Discover $11,530.00
    USAA Savings $19,653.00
    USAA Savings $27,662.00
    Bank of America $12,436.00

    I hope there is enough information out there to prompt the authorities to take an extra close look at this guy.

  • avatar
    Sandy A

    This Sikes guys certainly seems shady.

    But there is something I don’t get. If he faked it, and he does seems like the type, how can you burn out the brakes on a car that disables the accelerator when the brake pedal is pressed?

    I don’t buy the brake-accelerate-brake-accelerate scenario suggested above. First, the CHP officer said he smelled the brakes, so it was very recent, and second, the CHP officer said he saw Sikes attempting to press down hard by trying to stand on a pedal (suppossedly the brake). And, finally, the brake-accelerate-brake-accelerate scenario would be obvious to any motorist driving near Sikes. I haven’t heard anything to suggest anyone saw the car speeding up and slowing down repeatedly. Certainly not the CHP officer.

    So, how did he do it? I can see why Toyota would be “Mystified.” In order to burn the brakes you have to have them overheat which implies you have to be riding the brakes while the car is moving for some time. If the car isn’t accelerating (because of accelerator override), the brakes aren’t fighting the engine and the car should slow down (fast!).

    Something stinks, but I’m not sure what it is. If Toyota does have a problem then dishonest people are just as likely to victims as honest people.

    • 0 avatar
      Csnyder

      How would the Chippy know if Sikes was standing on the brake pedal, or just on the floor – or the accellerator pedal?? That’s real easy – he wouldn’t and couldn’t. They just took Sikes at his word.
      Sykes could well have toasted the brakes with numerous “panic stops” before the Chippy arived on the scene, then some quick pedal applications to keep them hot and to give the chippy something to see-smell.

  • avatar
    Odomeater

    Ah, these are difficult times for TTAC’ers and whatever is left (or left alive?)of the Toyo fans. The brand is disintegrating before our eyes and is a tough pill to swallow.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Prius-Boy is going down.

    From the WSJ:

    A federal safety investigation of the Toyota Prius that was involved in a dramatic incident on a California highway last week found a particular pattern of wear on the car’s brakes that raises questions about the driver’s version of the event, three people familiar with the investigation said.

    But the investigation of the vehicle, carried out jointly by safety officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota engineers, didn’t find signs the brakes had been applied at full force at high speeds over a sustained period of time, the three people familiar with the investigation said.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704734304575120001542947616.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    ABC News
    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=10094391

  • avatar
    Sandy A

    The latest reports certainly seem to negate the original story…

    “Todd Neibert, the officer who gave instructions to Sikes over a loudspeaker, said he smelled burning brakes when he caught up with the Prius. He examined the car when it came to a stop.

    “The brakes were definitely down to hardly any material,” he told reporters. “There was a bunch of brake material on the ground and inside the wheels.”

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wirestory?id=10091457&page=3

    I’m also certain the officer mentioned in one of the interviews that he saw the brakes lights of the Prius on when he approached from behind.

    If this guy is a fraud I hope he goes to jail for a long time. He would have caused a lot of damage for those who have actually experienced it.

    In my line of business I deal with control systems and embedded systems all the time. I cringe every time Toyota claims it is certain that it is not the electronics or software. No true engineer that has actually done embedded systems work can claim such a thing. Software/Firmware is not linear and unintended and unforseen states can be attained.

    I’m still trying to find out more about Toyota’s fault-tolerant design. My understanding is that Toyota has a single chip with two microprocessors on it that constitutes the ECM. However, I believe it has only a single communications bus. The fact that the two microprocessors on a single chip could be a problem. A single comm bus could be a problem. Having only a dual-redudant system could be a problem (most avionic systems have triple redundancy).

    And, there is always Single-Event Upsets. I believe a Toyota official mentioned that they use Flash memory for their software. Anyone know what kind? Some kinds of Flash are more succeptible to cosmic radiations than others. Just do a search online for SEUs and you will find tons of research on terrestial-based SEUs in modern electronics.

    • 0 avatar
      Csnyder

      On a spaceship or an aircraft, a triple redundancy “voting” system makes sense – you can’t just pull over to the side of the road and call a tow truck, or even go to a “limp-home mode”. In a car, dual redundancy is all that is REALLY required. If one or both computers sense a problem, you shut down or go to fail “safe” mode. No “vote” is required. From the descriptions I’ve seen of the Toyota system it looks like it would take several unrealated simultaneous failures to allow the vehicle to go to WOT – and even more for the brakes to lose effectiveness from ABS related failure at the same time.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Put the car in friggin’ NEUTRAL!!!!

    WHY doesn’t the media say this every time one of these incidents happens?

    We’re screwing around with lives here by not saying the obvious. Here we have people driving apparently out of control on roads surrounded with oblivious drivers unaware of the 90 MPH car approaching them.

    We’re missing out on opportunities of instructing people to use neutral.

    On a side note we ate dinner with elderly Prius driving friends and of course the topic came up. I mentioned neutral and the female friend went on to say that she realized that only recently and had to practice b/c she did not in fact know where neutral was on her car.

    That of course scares me b/c how many people do I share the roads with in a similar situation?

  • avatar

    March 17, 9:03 p.m. -Carquestions reports – The NewYork Prius investigation preliminary results are in – and……brake is 0% accelerator pedal 99.9% – The local Sheriff has all the details and copies of the investigators evidence. He seems rather unimpressed that there is not more to the story according to witnesses of the investigation


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