How to Stop a Runaway Car

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email
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April 11, 2013

The Virginia State trooper that stopped a runaway car on Interstate 81 earlier this week is speaking out.

The 1998 Mazda Protégé was going close to 100 miles per hour Tuesday afternoon in Augusta County, and the driver could not get it to slow down. Eventually the driver got into a median and slowed the car to 30 mph. Then the driver and passenger jumped out of the car.

After that, the trooper rammed the car into a guardrail to get it stopped.

"It's the oddest situation that I've ever been involved in," said Sergeant CJ Aikens. "It's not every day that you have an unmanned vehicle traveling at probably 50 or 60 miles per hour. I'm sure it's happened before, but i've never encountered it."

The passenger in the car, Sean Wies, called 911 when they could not get the car to stop. For about 15 minutes, he spoke with a dispatcher. When they could not get the car slowed down, Wies and the driver, Amy Guevara, decided to jump from the car.

Police don't yet know what caused the car to speed up on its own. They are still investigating. But mechanics say it was likely the floor mat.

"If they're shoved all the way up underneath, which they usually are, just reach down and pull it back," said Tom Powell at Quick Lane in Charlottesville.

Powell says the mats can get stuck on the gas pedal. If that is not the problem, though, Powell says the first thing you should do is shift the car into neutral. If that doesn't work, you can turn the key back one click to kill the engine.

It is critical to get the engine out of gear, or off, because as long as the gas is gunning, the brakes won't help.

"If you're still accelerating, applying the emergency brake will do very little," said Powell.

That's one of the frustrations Sean Wies described in his 911 call. The dispatcher repeatedly asked if the emergency brake was helping, and he said it was not. After they tried several other things to stop the car, they became afraid as they approached traffic and decided to go into the median and jump.

"Jumping from a moving vehicle is dangerous," said Doctor William Brady at the University of Virginia Health System's Emergency Department. "No matter what you're going to land on, no matter how you're going to land, and frankly, no matter what the speed."

Wies was dragged a short distance in the median. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. Guevara was not injured.


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