Clinging to the steering wheel of her SUV as it roared down an Iowa highway at nearly 120 miles per hour, unable to slow it down, Lauri Ulvestad imagined the worst during a harrowing ordeal on Sunday.
“I thought that was it,’’ she told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday
Ulvestad, 47, was traveling down a local interstate highway near her home in Ames, Iowa, when her 2011 Kia Sorento would not slow down, accelerating to triple digits even when she tried to slam on the brakes. Soon she was swerving around cars and bouncing through ditches in the median while frantically speaking on her cell phone to a 911 dispatcher. Video of her predicament was caught by the dashboard-mounted cameras of the police cruisers, and audio of her emotional journey can be heard on the 911 tapes.
Police advised her to pull up on the accelerator and push down on the brake, which finally forced the car to slow down after a 35-minute ordeal in which the GPS in the truck clocked her as fast as 119 miles per hour.Video: Stuck accelerator takes woman on terrifying ride (on this page)
“I had to do that multiple times and once the car slowed down, I jumped out and they unhooked the battery, and thank gosh it was over,’’ she said. “It was very emotional.”
Swinging from her dashboard the entire time was a medal with the inscription, “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.’’
‘I'm so scared’
When Ulvestad first realized her predicament, the mother of two children and three stepchildren initially called her husband, who manages a body shop. He advised her to make sure nothing was under the accelerator and to try to move the gearshift, but nothing worked. The truck has a keyless ignition, so she leaned on the button for several minutes with no success, and then tried the emergency brake without any luck.
“The steering wheel started shaking at first, then I started losing power and then it just started accelerating, going faster and faster and faster,’’ she said. “When (my husband) ran out of ideas, he said to call 911.’’
The SUV was going approximately 83 miles per hour when she first called 911 in a terrified state in which she can be heard saying, “I’m so scared” repeatedly.
“It’s harder to listen to the 911 tape (in the aftermath),’’ Ulvestad told Guthrie.
By the time the police caught up to her on the highway, the vehicle was doing 103 miles per hour. It was moving so fast that the police could not get ahead of her to clear other cars out of the way. That forced Ulvestad, who has no previous experience driving at that speed, to swerve around cars in the left lane and dip into the median to avoid a crash.
Juggling the phone
Ulvestad also had to navigate those obstacles while holding her cell phone to talk to the 911 dispatchers instead of being able to speak with her hands free.
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“I tried the hands-free and I lost the 911 dispatcher,’’ she said. “She called me back and I had to grab the phone, but I just held the phone and had to drive because when I went through the median it was so steep. The lip (of the median), the officer said it was like 8 inches, so when I went back up, I had to have both hands on the wheel, and I was scared to death.’’
With the car going more than 100 miles per hour, she also had to squeeze under a highway overpass with a semi truck.
“Especially when I went under the bridge with a semi and the car, I thought that was it,’’ she said.Video: Driver of runaway car: ‘I thought that was it’ (on this page)
On Monday, Kia Motors America issues a statement to NBC:
“Kia Motors America places a priority on vehicle safety and takes reported customer concerns seriously. Upon learning of this incident from the customer, KMA requested an initial inspection and test drive of the vehicle by authorized Kia service technicians and alternate transportation has been provided to the customer. Our technicians have been unable to duplicate the issue and this appears to be an isolated incident. KMA will continue to investigate and analyze the facts of this situation and will work with the customer to resolve the matter in a timely manner.”
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