Highway terror update: Laws of physics do apply

The survival of the two teenagers involved in the April 9 runaway car incident on I-81 may still be considered miraculous, but, according to revised information from Virginia State Police today, it was more in keeping with the laws of physics. Still, as revealed in the now released 911 call the teenagers made, it was a harrowing, bizarre experience for the young drivers, one that could have been tragic for other drivers if it wasn't for the quick thinking of a state trooper.

A Virginia State Police press release on April 9, just three hours after the incident and containing information the Hook confirmed with State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller, claimed the 1998 Silver Mazda Protege driven by 19-year-old Amy D. Guevara of Harrisonburg was traveling at somewhere between 100 and 110 mph when Guevara and her passenger, Sean Wies, also 19 and of Harrisonburg, leaped from the moving vehicle onto pavement, somehow surviving with only minor injuries.

Information from the troopers involved given to her on April 10, says Geller, reveals that Guevara's car was actually

in the grassy median around mile marker 217 and had slowed to between 30 and 40mph when the teens bailed, allowing their survival.


Wies jumped from the front seat of the car and was dragged a slight distance before finally being able to break free from the car, Geller says.

Once they'd exited the car, Geller now says, the vehicle re-accelerated and was headed across the median and into northbound traffic when State Trooper C.J. Aikens used his cruiser to ram the driverless Mazda and force it into the guardrail, where it stopped.

According to Geller, the police vehicles involved in the operation were not equipped with dash-cams, but a nearly 17-minute 911 call, which came in at 12:32pm, reveals the teens' increasingly urgent attempts to slow the car as they traveled from milepost 232 to 217 while maneuvering around traffic and worrying about being struck by the trucks that are a staple of the north-south I81 corridor.

"Amy, it's okay. Stay calm," says Wies, whose own voice rises only slightly on several occasions as the dispatcher offers various suggestions for slowing or stopping the car. Guevara's panic is evident in at least one scream heard on tape. The car could not be shifted into a lower gear or neutral, Wies told the dispatcher, and applying the emergency brake had little effect on the car, which continued to accelerate.

When the call begins, Wies tells the dispatcher they're traveling at approximately 50mph but are being followed closely by a truck he's concerned will strike them if they slow too suddenly. As the Mazda travels south downhill, its speed increases, although Wies says Guevara is pressing the brake. The highest speed Wies cites on the tape is 90mph, but according to Geller, the trooper who was following behind says the Mazda did top 100mph during the incident.

Trooper Aikens, who performed the maneuver that eventually stopped the car, was treated at Augusta Health and released. Wies was also treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Aikens will hold a press conference on April 11 to share further details.

Read more on: runaway car


Id love to find out where this press conference is being held. Please let me know

Wow...well, that was quite a listen! Thanks for posting this! That was a very calm and sensible young man.

First thing the dispatcher advises is put it in neutral and use the emergency brake!

Unfortunately, there is nothing on the tape other than the (very calm) young man's assertion that "we already tried that and it won't work" to indicate why the car couldn't change gears.

I can't find a handy diagram online of the shift linkage for a Mazda Protege of that vintage - at least, for an automatic, which is what I'm gonna assume she was driving. However, I do see one for a 2003, and *assuming* again they are basically the same, the thing is just a simple selector cable to the transmission.

There is an "interlock" on the shifter itself to prevent the shifter from moving from Neutral or Park unless you press on the brakes. The interlock is disabled by stepping on the brake pedal (the interlock is controlled by a cable attached to the brake pedal).

So unless the cable to the transmission AND the interlock cable broke, AND the hydraulic brakes failed, it should have been possible to put the car into a lower gear or neutral. There is a thumb-shift-lock which *might* have failed as well, or the driver may have simply forgotten to press it in a panic.

If the hydralic brakes had failed, having a "brake booster" (powered by vacuum from a running engine) would have also been useless. This means: if the engine were causing the acceleration, and the brakes were gone, then shutting off the engine would have resulted in deceleration.

Very interestingly, the car was going 50-60 at the outset - more or less normal cruising speed in top gear + Overdrive for an idling engine (no or not much gas). I think the sudden acceleration up to 90+ absent a downhill (and I didn't hear the young man who described a lot of hills mention one) seems...questionable. Ok, maybe the accelerator pedal or cable was stuck, but then the sudden acceleration seems..weird.

I'll stick with panic (on the driver's part, obviously not the passenger!), but I do wonder...that's a lot of system failures, almost four now, to cause this:

- stuck accelerator
- failed hydraulic brakes
- broken interlock cable OR mechanism (should only affect park + neutral, not driving gears).
- broken shift-lock.

The probability gets...small....very small.

I would still have advised shutting off the engine as well. That would have forced "engine braking" to occur.

I am not surprised they were able to survive a 30-40 MPH "get off" on dirt/grass relatively unscathed. I wish there were a dash-cam available - it would be nice to see how the car got back on the pavement and how it started to accelerate again.

A final permutation on this: it's possible the throttle was stuck WIDE OPEN, and indeed, the only reason the speed was dropped down in the 50-60 mph range (initially) was that between the hydraulic brakes and uphill sections taht was as much as could be scrubbed off. Still, that means the gears couldn't be shifted.

Or the transmission failed, regardless if it has a manual shift linkage or not, if the valve body, clutches, bands, oil pump etc in the transmission failed, especially since this is a questionably maintained (driven by teenagers) 15 year old car, being driven through the mountains (which is as hard as you can get on something outside of a race track) the transmission could've failed, old water contaminated brake fluid could have boiled causing the pedal to drop to the floor before acting. We don't know, that's why there will be an investigation.

Of course there will probably be some idiot who blames it on Mazda instead of lack of maintenance on their part.