Horror ride at 120 mph on I-35

Troopers praise an Iowa woman’s driving skills after her car’s accelerator got stuck.

08/24/2012 12:00 AM

05/16/2014 7:30 PM

Lauri Ulvestad is 47, lives the quiet life of an Ames, Iowa mom and drives a Kia Sorrento.

But on Sunday she found herself driving Stephen King’s Kia Sorrento.

“I could have killed so many people,” she said Friday.

After Ulvestad left her best friend’s house in Independence and headed back home alone on Interstate 35, the car, black, of course, suddenly speeded up on its own — 70 … 80 … 90 mph.

The accelerator was stuck. She stomped the brake. Nothing. The gear shift wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t turn the key off — it has no key — it’s a push-button start.

She cradled the phone in her neck, dialed 911 and hung on to the steering wheel with both hands.

Over 100 … 105 … 110. She was blowing by cars like they were a funeral procession as she yelled to a 911 operator. The dispatcher told her to pull the emergency brake. She yanked the emergency brake. Might as well have pulled on the blinker.

Mile markers passed like parking meters. The Kia hit 120 as she weaved through a construction zone.

Two Missouri Highway Patrol troopers appeared in her rearview mirror.

“I thought I was going to die,” Ulvestad said Friday. “There was no way this was going to end good. I didn’t have any control, other than to steer it.”

So here’s this woman who usually drives to the supermarket and hauls kids around town suddenly flying up I-35, over 120 mph, going into the grassy median to avoid slower cars, and they all were.

One trooper finally managed to get in front of her to help clear traffic.

More patrol cars joined the chase.

“At one time, there were seven Highway Patrol cars and other cars still wouldn’t get over — with all those red lights back there,” Ulvestad said. “They just wouldn’t get out of the way.”

Missouri Highway Patrol spokesman Sheldon Lyon said the cars covered 59 miles in 35 minutes before the woman’s vehicle suddenly slowed and came to a stop on the inside shoulder near Osceola, Iowa, about 40 miles north of the state line.

The 911 operator – who was in constant contact with the Highway Patrol’s headquarters in Jefferson City – had told her to lift up the accelerator and push on the brake. It worked, the third time she did it.

She climbed out of the car and fell into a trooper’s arms. He had to disconnect the car’s battery to get the Sorrento to finally die.

Lyon praised Ulvestad’s driving prowess.

“Not only to drive fast, but to go into the median, pull back up into the passing lane and hit that asphalt lip — and not overcorrect — it was really amazing to see her do that repeatedly,” Lyon said.

Lyon said Ulvestad had attempted everything the 911 operator told her to do, including trying to shift the vehicle into neutral. The vehicle had a “proximity key,” Lyon said, which allows someone to start the car without a real key when they’re close enough to it.

“There was some talk about if she threw the key fob out the window, would the car shut off,” Lyon said. “We’re trying to look at that so in the future, if this comes up again, we’ll have more experience with the key fob or proximity key.”

While he praised Ulvestad’s driving and the efforts of the troopers, Lyon said he was disappointed in the drivers who stayed in the left lane of the interstate and didn’t immediately move over when the patrol cars came up behind them.

“Every close call was caused by people who wouldn’t get out of the way for the lights and sirens,” he said.

Irvine, Calif.,-based Kia Motors America Inc. issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it has inspected Ulvestad’s vehicle but hasn’t been able to identify the problem that caused her accelerator to stick.

“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,” the company said.

Kia said it has provided Ulvestad with alternative transportation and is working with her to resolve the issue in a timely manner.

As for Ulvestad, she wants everybody to know that — Yes! She tried the brakes and to put it in neutral and she wanted to shut off the engine!

But none of it worked.

So, once again, people, get out of her way.

Videos

Join the Discussion

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service