Judge Frees Man Convicted In Fatal Toyota Crash

Prosecutors say they will not seek re-trial.

by on Aug.06, 2010

A judge freed the driver of this Camry after three years in prison. A new hearing suggested the accident could have been caused by defects in the 1996 Toyota Camry.

A Minnesota trial judge has ordered the release of a man who has claimed a runaway Toyota Camry led to a fatal accident.

Koua Fong Lee is a free man today after Ramsey County District Court Judge Joanne Smith ruled that new evidence supports his innocence, his attorney said, after the judge handed down the decision.

The ruling comes after a four-day hearing over a cruise control problem in the Toyota Camry that Mr. Lee was driving in a 2006 crash that claimed the lives of three people and resulted in his being sentenced to prison.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner has said prosecutors would not seek a new trial. (See Retrial Requested in Minnesota Toyota Homicide)


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In June of 2006, Lee and his family were returning from Sunday church services when his his 1996 Camry accelerated to a reported 90 mph on a freeway off-ramp before rear-ending another vehicle stopped at a light.  Three members of the Adams family were killed, two others injured.

“I did everything I could to stop that vehicle and that vehicle didn’t stop,” Lee told a Minnesota TV news crew after his release from Lino Lakes prison.

Koua Fong Lee has spent three years in prison for the fatal June 2006 crash. (Photo courtesy Fox News.)

Jury members rejected that argument and found Lee guilty, but the trial occurred before Toyota announced the first of two majors recalls involving so-called unintended acceleration, a problem that has led it to call back more than 8 million vehicles so far.

Attorneys Robert Hilliard from the Corpus Christi, Texas-based law firm of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP and Brent Schafer of Minneapolis argued in court, during the latest hearing, that an inspection of Lee’s vehicle found a cable actuator in the cruise control mechanism that is still stuck in the open position, which would have caused the car to accelerate uncontrollably. Once the mechanism is stuck, the vehicle’s brakes are unable to slow the car, Lee’s lawyers said.

During the hearing, 11 owners of similar Toyota models testified that they experienced the same sudden, unintentional acceleration in their cars.

Hilliard said that Toyotas made prior to 2003 and equipped with cruise control are in danger of the cable defect, and unfortunately the problem only shows up over time.

“The recent media storm over Toyota vehicles is focused on electronic problems in newer vehicles,” said Hilliard. “But the dirty little secret is that a deadly defect in older Toyotas has been around for years, and folks may know nothing about it until it’s too late.”

Hilliard added prosecutors in at least three states are reevaluating cases of fatal accidents involving older Toyotas, and that the “Toyota Defense” used in Lee’s trial could help in those cases.

Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in October 2007 and sentenced to eight years in prison for the June 2006 accident which cost the lives of Javis Adams, 33, his son, Javis Adams Jr., 10, and his niece, Devyn Bolton, 7.

Though Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said that, “It’s a matter for local legal authorities to determine,” he noted Lee’s Toyota had a mechanical throttle cable, not an electronic throttle control and was not subject to any related recall.

Toyota representatives inspected the vehicle and their findings differed from those of the defense’s inspection, Michels added.

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