Man Jailed in Toyota Deaths Now Free

We wrote earlier this year about a man seeking a change of venue in a case involving a fatal automobile crash that landed him in prison. Koua Fong Lee was involved in a deadly accident with his 1996 Toyota Camry when it sped up an interstate ramp and crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing three people, said the Associated Press (AP) previously.

Lee continually maintained he did all he could to stop the vehicle; however, the jury did not believe him and he was sentenced to eight years in prison, wrote the AP. Now, USA Today is reporting Lee’s runaway Toyota, although not among those recalled, experienced so-called “speed control” problems, said USA Today. Mr. Lee is finally scheduled to be released pending a new trial; prosecutors will not be seeking to charge Lee.

Lee was driving home from church with his pregnant wife, young daughter, father, and brother in 2006 when their Toyota Camry sped up a ramp at speeds estimated between 70 and 90 miles per hour, said the AP. Lee’s car slammed into an Oldsmobile that was stopped at a red light, killing Javis Trice Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr., at the scene; Adams’ young niece, Devyn Bolton, was paralyzed from the neck down; she died just after Lee’s conviction.

Lee testified that he tried to brake; however a city mechanic testified the brakes were fine; the prosecution argued that Lee accelerated in error; he was convicted on two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, said the AP. At sentencing, the judge gave Lee the maximum after hearing what was described as emotional testimony from the victim’s family, said the AP.

Since, the family of those killed in the crash had a change of heart, according to the AP. While they originally fought for Lee’s imprisonment, in light of the news about runaway Toyotas, manufacturing defects, and recalls, the victims’ family believes Lee and plans on suing the auto giant

“I know 100 percent in my heart that I took my foot off the gas and that I was stepping on the brakes as hard as possible,” Lee said in a prior interview from the state prison in Lino Lakes. “When the brakes were looked at and we were told that nothing was wrong with the brakes, I was shocked,” he added, quoted the AP.

According to ABC News, Lee rejected a recently proposed plea agreement that, while freeing him, would have kept the original conviction and would have prevented him from driving for 10 years, said USA Today. In addition to attracting demonstrators fighting for Lee’s release, an expert witness testified that brake filaments in Lee’s Toyota exploded in the accident, said USA Today. The expert witness also noted that, as part of the filament issue, Lee’s brake lights were on; however, the Toyota continued to accelerate, reported USA Today.

Since last November, Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to resolve floor-mat interference and sticking pedal problems that may lead to incidents of unintended acceleration. Some vehicles are subject to both recalls. Complaints to the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) attribute 93 deaths to sudden acceleration of a Toyota vehicle. Earlier this year, Toyota agreed to pay a record $16.375 million fine levied by the NHTSA for concealing information related to a January recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals. The company also faces more than 200 lawsuits resulting from the sticky accelerator and floor mat recalls.

Toyota has blamed the acceleration problems on driver error, but consumer advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys have alleged that they are the result of a defect in the vehicles’ electronic throttle control system.

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