Highway terror: Teens escape runaway car

A scene of terror unfolded on I-81Tuesday afternoon, April 9, when two Harrisonburg teenagers found themselves in a car that accelerated out of control to 110 mph, leading the two to leap from the moving vehicle seconds before police engaged in a controlled collision that forced it into the guardrail.

According to a release from Virginia State Police, 19-year-old Amy D. Guevara was driving the 1998 Mazda Protege south on I-81 at the 230 mile marker near Weyer's Cave when she discovered the brakes were not working. Her passenger, 19-year-old Sean Wies, also of Harrisonburg, called 911 and a scene worthy of a movie– complete with miraculous ending– unfolded.

State Police and Augusta County Sheriff's deputies dispatched to I-81 caught up with the car, and while the dispatcher offered the teens various solutions to stop the car– none of them successful– officers cleared the road of vehicles to prevent a high speed collision, then prepared to take drastic action by forcing the runaway vehicle into the guardrail.

"The teens were wearing their seatbelts," says State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller, noting that the vehicle was traveling upwards of 100 mph, when the teens made the decision to leap on their own.

In the 911 tape, Geller says, the teens sound remarkably calm as they contemplate throwing themselves out of the vehicle onto the pavement.

According to the release, state Trooper C.J. Aikens positioned his vehicle in front of the by then-empty Mazda to stop and force it into the guard rail off the left shoulder of the southbound lanes of I-81.

To the shock of police and rescue responders, Geller says, Guevara was apparently unharmed and Wies suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Both teens were able to give statements, and Wies and Trooper Aikens were transported to Augusta Health for treatment.

The incident is being investigated, and no charges will be filed.

Developing story...

Read more on: mazda


Glad they're safe. Bad for Mazda. I've heard of this before with a different make.

am i missing something? read this on another site too. did they jump out of a car onto asphalt at 100 mph? with few injuries?

I guess the car didn't have a neutral on the column?

Same thing happened to my daughter. She turned the ignition off and applied what had now become non-power brakes. Believe it or not, a county cop witnessed this, pulled out about 50 feet to park behind her, and wrote her a speeding ticket. And in the wildest thing I have ever seen in my 59 years of life, the judge convicted her.

Even worse, the cop testified under oath that he had to pull out and pursue her. Nothing was further from the truth, but the judge believed the cop. Being 18, her insurance as cancelled. I had to pay off her new car and go to DMV and put the Uninsured Motorist Fee on her and the vehicle. The taxpayers sure were "the winner" here, eh? Another uninsured car on the highway.

I'm not buying it either. That car has a mechanical transmission linkage, so yes, neutral is available, and even if there are NO brakes (not just a broken brake booster - complete hydraulic failure) it will coast to a stop eventually, particularly with the police clearing space ahead of them.

I'm perfectly willing to believe that an inexperienced and likely poorly trained 19 year old with almost no mechanical understanding of the vehicle would panic and be unable to correctly execute the instructions given by the dispatcher.

While it's easy to imagine (as a motorcycle rider) that one could survive the jump at that speed, it's hard to believe she was unscathed - even with proper gear (helmet and leathers) I'd expect a LOT of scuffing and bruises, given the best case. I'd think that car has an airbag and they'd be MUCH better off staying put for the controlled crash into the guard rail.

Downshift (even with an automatic transmission) and "engine brake". Would slow to near stop on an upgrade.

Driver's education, my posterior sphincter...

If you do happen to be in a vehicle that loses its brakes - DO NOT shift the thing into neutral. At this point, you would have only 2 things to minimize vehicle speed. One would be the parking brake which is not designed to stop the car very well, but its surely better than nothing. But the second IS THE TRANSMISSION - if you shift to neutral you've just lost one of your best bets for slowing down. DOWNSHIFT - as lance said.

Another thing that you should NOT do is turn off the engine - thus losing power assist to the steering, and if brakes are in play (which they may or may not have been here) you also lose power assist to the brakes.

However, it is also the case that this story has to be a mess. A Mazda Protege, left in gear is not going to hit 110mph, and especially not on that stretch of roadway. Failed brakes are possible, but there also had to be a stuck throttle if the thing hit over 100mph. In the case of uncontrolled acceleration, neutral is a good option.

Another thing about this report that smells funny is two people who are largely uninjured after throwing themselves out of a car at 100mph. Sorry but no. Sooner or later some reporter is going to have to dig up the real story here - because what was reported is not what actually happened. It couldn't happen.

This is a much better report (though still odd stuff). Its likely that the issue was a stuck throttle (or even IAC valve) rather than a braking issue. They apparently also ditched the car on the median which had slowed the car & meant it wasn't on to pavement. There's still plenty that doesn't add up.


@JS - I think you're pretty mechanically ill-informed as well.

Yes, engine braking is better than coasting (down-shifting vs. neutral), IF the engine isn't WOT (the accelerator cable isn't stuck, for example). She might well have had a stuck accelerator cable which set off the episode and prompted the panic.

First, Power Steering is really only important at <5MPH when the tires' friction on the pavement makes the wheels hard to turn. Those of us who grew up in the pre-PS days remember very well being taught that the way to make turning the wheels easier when parked was to just let the car move very slightly. At these speeds, the lack of power steering isn't even noticeable.

Finally: the parking/hand-brake will work quite adequately to stop the car, but the braking distance is much longer than the regular brakes - the parking brake is just two small drum shoes in the rear instead of all four wheels (discs up front). The parking brake is capable of killing the engine when the car is in first gear - that is the test for the VA inspection. A popular trick-driving manoeuver wiht the Miata and Protege is to use the rear brakes (the hand brake) to do trick sliding u-turns in parking lots (lock up the rear end after starting a turn, and it will swing around).

Thanks for being an example of what I was talking about: poor driver ed, and poor mechanical understanding of the vehicle. Congrats on knowing what engine braking is though.

@non-resident-taxpayer - Sorry - there was absolutely no mechanically misinformed anything in my post.

I am well aware of what a parking brake is and how it works. What I said is that it wasn't designed to stop a car very well - which it isn't.

I am well aware that PS is less important with speed. But that doesn't mean it is irrelevant - especially for today's younger drivers who have never gone without it. Barely noticeable difference? NOT. I don't care what the speed. The difference between having it and not is very real.

In addition, this was apparently NOT a case of failed brakes. It was runaway acceleration - whatever the cause (floor mat, cable, throttle plate, IAC valve). In this case you absolutely DO NOT want to lose the vacuum booster assist to the brakes.

So sorry. But the stupidest thing you can do is turn the damn engine off.

JS, shifting into neutral would make the car stop eventually, so would turning it off. Gravity and friction win in the end. Seems to me the stupidest thing you could do would be to jump out of the car instead of just letting it slow to a stop. Even in the worst case that would happen in a mile or less unless it was all downhill which is very unlikely on an interstate.

@not buyin' it. Go out to the top of Afton mountain on 64. Put the car at 60-65. Pretend that you have no brakes and ride down in neutral. See what happens. Now do it in drive or top gear. See what happens. Now do it in a lower gear and see what happens.

This report said that the inclines were the things adding speed - that means gravity working the wrong way. The only thing that will control your speed is the transmission itself. (Though I'm betting dollars to doughnuts it was actually stuck acceleration b/c I know that stretch of road well and you're not hitting 110 anyplace just by gravity).

Don't put the dumb thing in neutral - unless it is stuck on accelerating.

JS, Weyer's Cave is nowhere near Afton.

"(Though I'm betting dollars to doughnuts it was actually stuck acceleration b/c I know that stretch of road well and you're not hitting 110 anyplace just by gravity)."

Followed by : "Don't put the dumb thing in neutral - unless it is stuck on accelerating."

Do you think before you post?

@JS, you yourself say that:

"It was runaway acceleration - whatever the cause (floor mat, cable, throttle plate, IAC valve). In this case you absolutely DO NOT want to lose the vacuum booster assist to the brakes."

And in that case, yes, not having the engine running (pushing the car) would be vastly preferable to having a brake booster.

Your experiment about coasting down from Afton Mtn (I drive a stick and I've done the "Mexican Overdrive" experiment plenty of times) only works (the engine braking) if the accelerator isn't stuck open. In other words: engine braking (or on big Semis, "Jake Brakes") only works when the engine isn't speeding up by itself (throttle stuck open).

These kids would have been JUST FINE by putting it in neutral and using the hand brake, even coming down Afton mtn on 64. If they really and truly couldn't get it into neutral, they could have killed the engine. Even without the brake booster, the regular brakes would have stopped the car just fine going down 64. The acceleration is caused by the engine - when you shut off the engine or put it in neutral, you remove that problem.

Oh, and as someone who's had to drive a car with the PS belt off, I can tell you, at these speeds, power steering is irrelevant. If you want to get a clue, do an experiment and remove your PS belt and try driving your car.

You sound like you've never actually experienced any of these things, and are just imagining what it must be like (fearfully).

"never turn off the engine" and "never coast in neutral" are driver's ed teaching dogma and should be tossed out the window according to context and circumstances. In the case of a stuck accelerator, turning off the engine and coasting in neutral are the best thing you can do, although it came out in the Toyota debacle that the cars involved had power brakes which were more than powerful enough to kill the engine, even at full throttle. And like the Audi "sudden acceleration" scare in the 80s, the Toyota scare was demonstrated to be entirely operator error.

@not buyin' it.

Ok. Since you are apparently either a simpleton or just argumentative, just skip any reference to Afton. How about this - go find a really big hill. Go down the hill in neutral and see what the car does. Now go down it in gear - experiment and downshift as you go. You will learn that a car will gain a lot more speed on a downgrade in neutral than it will in gear - especially if you downshift to lower gears.

The point was that you apparently don't know what engine braking is and I was trying to help you learn something. So I don't think it is I who doesn't think first.

@non-resident-tax payer,

The news report suggested that the problem was a loss of brakes. IF the problem is a loss of brakes then putting it in neutral is NOT what you should do.

However, I suggested that this must me NOT a case of lost brakes but INSTEAD a case of unintended acceleration - in which case, I have said more than once now that this is the time you DO put it in neutral. Did you just decide you wanted to have an argument today or what? I will, however, stand by the fact that shutting off the engine in addition to putting it in neutral is dumb. Once it is in neutral, how - exactly - is shutting off the engine going to help? A: It won't help - it will hurt both steering and braking ability.

I took a driver's ed course about 30 years ago. I can't tell you a thing about what I was taught. It wasn't this stuff. I know how the stupid cars work. Go have an argument with someone else.

I grew up driving cars without PS including one very large dump truck.

Thanks for the laughs JS. Once you finally get around to having your coffee for the day and re-read your latest string of posts, you're going to be thankful for your online anonymity.

Please tell me you don't still drive heavy equipment (or teach children).

Virginia State Police revised some details today and I've written an updated story and posted the full 911 recording. http://bit.ly/14bRK4L --Courteney Stuart

Messrs. Goodwrench, thanks for all your posts. Can we get back to the Dumler Death Threat?

Actually, the jumping out thing sounds a bit unbelievable. But, of course, an inquiring press would never question a VSP press release that says a teenage kid jumped out of a car at 100 mph and suffered no injuries.

P.S.: Gang, do NOT use de-natured alcohol to light your barbecues!

R.I.P.: Gram Parsons

"Thanks for the laughs JS. Once you finally get around to having your coffee for the day and re-read your latest string of posts, you're going to be thankful for your online anonymity.

Please tell me you don't still drive heavy equipment (or teach children)."

I have no idea what your point is. If it is that you are dumb enough to believe that I don't know what I am talking about, then it only says something about you.

BTW, I teach children to drive heavy equipment.

Well JS, you think that loss of brakes accelerates a vehicle. Nuff said.

Thanks for the yucks twice today!

@ not buyin' it. You lack of understanding of how motor vehicles operate is as profound as your lack of reading comprehension.

If you operate a motor vehicle anywhere on public roadways please do us all a favor - for our safety and yours - and go learn about engine braking. Don't read about it. Go do it. In the event that you ever do lose brakes while driving we are all safer if you know what to do.

IF you are driving along and find that you have no brakes, putting the vehicle in neutral will MAXIMIZE your stopping distance. Will friction and gravity eventually slow the car? Yes. (As long as you're not headed downhill). But they have to overcome inertia. In this case, will the car slow MUCH faster if you leave it in gear and proceed to downshift? YES - because you can add engine braking to both friction and gravity. If you find a safe place to experiment with it you will quickly learn that your transmission is much more effective at slowing the vehicle than gravity - which also has a funny way of not always acting in your favor. This is not a mystery. Understanding engine braking is as fundamental to driving as knowing that tires are round. (Obviously to downshifting you add use of the parking brake).

However, IF you are dealing with a car with some kind of acceleration malfunction - uncontrolled or "unintended" acceleration, then you absolutely shift to neutral so that the engine cannot keep feeding power through the transmission to the wheels. This is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT situation from loss of brakes.

Initial reports of this incident painted it as a brake failure - but that came from what the kids in the car were saying to the 911 operator. It is clear that the kids in car had little understanding of what was actually going on. I listened to the entire 911 recording & read several reports. There may or may not have been some kind of a brake issue. But this was primarily a case of unintended acceleration. The kids in the car claim that they could not shift it to neutral. Short of broken shift linkage, there is no reason other than cluelessness that the car could not have been shifted to neutral. Broken shift linkage is possible - but rare. Uncontrolled acceleration is rare. The two happening to coincide? Highly improbable. Stuck throttle + broken shift linkage + bad brakes - even more improbable.

In any case, not buyin' it - as long as you believe that shifting to neutral is the best thing to do in the event of brake failure, we are all much less safe with you driving around out there.

@JS - did you read the new article with the new details, including the recording? Did you listen to the recording? What did the dispatcher advise? Putting the car in neutral (or a lower gear)!

Give it up dude.

Still arguing with yourself JS? I've never suggested that shifting to neutral is the best thing to do in the event of a break failure. I suggested it as a solution to an unintended acceleration problem, the problem these kids seem to have been experiencing. I-81 in most of the northern half of the valley is pretty flat. They would have come to a stop relatively quickly.

I agree that everyone ought to know about engine breaking, primarily that it is something that should almost never be done. Brake pads are cheap and can be replaced by almost anyone who has a few tools and a flat place to jack a car. Transmissions and engines are much more difficult to fix and far more expensive. Sudden downshifting without a corresponding blip of the accelerator pedal (read up on heel and toe downshifting elsewhere) also risks putting a rear wheel drive car into a spin and can lead to a sudden loss of steering in front wheel drive vehicles. In SOME emergency situations it might be a good idea, but engine braking ought to generally be avoided.

@ non resident & not buyin'

Apparently neither of you are capable of reading & comprehending what I write. I'm done with it.

I love how someone blames mazda for this, yes, i'm sure it's their fault for either the many floor mats under the accelerator pedal, the lack of brake fluid replacement, or cheap aftermarket brake pads/unmaintained braking system.

I think the main issue here is that no one knows how to use google.