Mar 9, 2010

Toyota caught in the headlights of accused man

by Katie Bell

A Minnesota man could be paying the price for Toyota’s mistake.

Koua Fong Lee was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of vehicular homicide. In light of recent events surrounding the Toyota Corporation, there is reason to believe Lee should be exonerated. Lee was driving home from Sunday services with his pregnant wife, daughter, father, brother and niece in 2006 in his 1996 Toyota Camry when the horrific accident happened.

At the time of the accident, the car was traveling at speeds between 70 and 90 mph when it hit two other vehicles. Javis Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr., were killed instantly, according to CNN. Devyn Bolton, 6, testified at Lee’s trial from her wheelchair but later died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the accident, according to CNN.

“Lee told investigators that he hit the brakes as he exited I-94 in St. Paul, Minn., and approached an intersection,” Lee’s lawyer Brent Schaefer said, according to CNN.

Schaefer was not his attorney at trial.

Ramsey County prosecutors claimed Lee had his foot on the accelerator as he approached cars stopped at a red light, according to CNN. But why would a man try to drive so recklessly with his loved ones in the car?

Lee has maintained his innocence since the accident.

“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, according to Fox News.

Toyota did not recall all of their 1996 Camrys, just the ones that had defective cruise controls that could cause sudden acceleration, according to CNN.

A search of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s online complaint database revealed 526 incidents listed for the 1996 Toyota Camry. The complaints concerned air bags, tires, steering, visibility and at least two-dozen related to “vehicle speed control,” some dating back to 1997, according to CNN.

These findings give strength to Lee’s case.

“Two mechanical engineers examined the car before trial on behalf of the state and the defense,” Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said, according to CNN.

The mechanical engineers concluded that the brakes operated properly and there were no problems with the acceleration, according to CNN.

Lee’s accident is among the first of an increasing number of cases being reviewed since Toyota announced a recall. In testimony before Congress, company executives apologized for underestimating the problem, according to CNN.

The fact that Toyota executives admitted the problem was “worse than originally thought” speaks volumes in Lee’s favor.

“We have no interest in an innocent man being behind bars. Accordingly, we are very open to considering evidence that might show that in fact he wasn’t guilty,” Gaertner said, according to CNN. “If we’re going to disturb a conviction, we need evidence.”

Schaefer said he will be filing the paperwork soon to request a reexamination of the totaled Camry, which still sits at the St. Paul police impound lot. Both the prosecution and the defense expect his request to be granted. Schaefer would then have to persuade the judge that new evidence merits a new trial, according to Fox News.

“I hope to get to the bottom of it and find the truth,” I feel that (Koua Fong Lee) is innocent,” Quincy Adams said, according to CNN. Adams survived the accident but lost his son and grandson.

There is a possibility of a man sitting in prison for an automaker’s mistake. If Lee is exonerated because the court finds Toyota at fault for the accident, there is a lesson to be learned. When corporations fail to ensure quality control, the results can be fatal.

Contact Katie Bell at

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