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Toyota Recalls Could Free Jailed Man

Feb 26, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

The ongoing debacle regarding defective Toyotas and related recalls has revealed another issue. The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that one man involved in a fatal crash that landed him in prison is seeking a change of venue.

Koua Fong Lee was involved in a fatal accident with his 1996 Toyota Camry when it sped up an interstate ramp and crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing three people, said the AP. Lee maintains that 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.

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, said the AP; 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.

While Lee is working to have his case and his freedom returned, the family of those killed in the crash is having 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 now plans on suing the auto giant, noted the AP. "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 an interview Wednesday 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.

"We don't want an innocent man sitting in prison," said Phil Carruthers, prosecutor on the case, reported the AP, which added that a spokesman for Toyota declined to comment.

Lee's accident isn’t the only one garnering attention following Toyota’s admission to significant sudden acceleration problems, wrote the AP. Lawsuits are increasing, some class action, and many more are expected.

Since September, Toyota has recalled nearly eight million vehicles worldwide for issues involving unintended acceleration. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with Toyota and Lexus vehicles that involve more than 30 deaths and hundreds of accidents since 2000. Toyota had blamed the problems on faulty floor mats and defective accelerator pedals, but some believe a problem with the vehicle’s electronic throttle control system is behind the problems.

Testifying before Congress, Chief Officer, Toyoda, apologized for not understanding the full ramification of its safety problems and stated the firm might not have found all the causes for the sudden acceleration problems, a revelation that could be of great help to Lee and others in his position, said the AP. And, while Lee’s Camry was not included in recent recalls, some 1996 Camrys have been recalled for defective cruise control issues that could lead to sudden acceleration, said the AP.


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