By on August 9, 2010

Koua Fong Lee, who had spent over two years behind bars for his role in a collision that killed three people, was freed today when a judge vacated his sentence. The reason: ineffective legal counsel, and evidence that suggested Lee’s 1996 Toyota Camry could have been driving out of control. The Ramsey County (MN) prosecutor has decided against re-trying Lee, making him a free man. Meanwhile, the fact that 1996 Toyota Camrys have not been recalled for faulty brakes or throttle units leaves a huge question mark hanging over this case.

CNN explains the basic conflict in Lee’s trial thusly:

Lee was driving home from Sunday services with his pregnant wife, father, daughter, brother and niece. He told investigators that he pumped the brakes as he exited Interstate 94 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and approached an intersection, said his new lawyer, Brent Schafer.

But Ramsey County prosecutors said at trial that Lee had his foot on the gas as he approached cars waiting at a red light. The car was moving at 70 to 90 mph when it struck the other vehicles.

Experts from both the prosecution and the defense both inspected the vehicle in question during Lee’s 2007 trial, and found nothing wrong. Since then, Lee’s new lawyer explains that more information has come to light

We found out, actually, it was known back in 2006, not long after this accident occurred, that if you were to look at the brake filament, you would have been able to tell that the brake lamp was illuminated at the time of the impact, which basically was evidence in support of Koua’s story that the car was out of control and that he did everything to stop it. So, in fact, his foot was on the brake. That evidence was known prior to the trial. By looking at the filament, it was clear — and I don’t think any experts disagree with this — that the brakes were on at the point of impact.”

In addition, there was evidence at trial that this car did not have ABS brakes, which was a big part of the state’s case. Because there were no skid marks, they concluded Koua was not on the brakes, and that was simply false testimony and I think that was also a key issue that led to his conviction

Of course, criminal procedure is designed to prevent wrongful imprisonment, and surely nobody wishes to undermine the joy that Lee’s family must certainly be feeling right now, but if Lee is not guilty, one must assume that his car is. Given that 1996 Camry’s have no known record of unintended acceleration, that no recalls have taken place for issues related to unintended acceleration, and that Lee’s vehicle in particular was found to have no malfunctions, it’s obvious that the 1996 Toyota Camry is having the burden of proof shoved squarely on its shoulders.

Should Lee or the family of those who died in that terrible accident sue Toyota, this case will get a lot more interesting. In the meantime, it shows just how nebulous and yet far-reaching the idea of unintended acceleration has become… and how ill-prepared our justice system is to deal with it.

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42 Comments on “Driver Freed In Minneapolis “Toyota Murder” Case...”


  • avatar
    tced2

    Does a 1996 Camry have drive-by-wire? I don’t think so. Drive-by-wire is blamed for some (much?) of the problems.
    Yes, a 1996 Camry does have floor mats and I guess they could be jammed under the accelerator pedal.
    But this still does not explain why the brake pedal was not pressed hard enough to stop/slow the car. The brake lights being on tell you nothing about the brake pressure application. Virtually every car can be stopped by its brakes if they are pressed hard enough (unless the brakes are broken). Or there is always the neutral position on the gearshift.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I would like to hear more about the brake lamp filiment and how this vindicated the man. Did all the filiments fail due to the fact that they were on, warm, and jarred by the impact into breaking? I’ve never heard of such a theory.

    It would have been early days for such a device, but was there possibly an event data recorder installed in the vehicle?

    Regarding lawsuits, I read an article over the weekend on this issue, and it said the family of the deceased is a) suing Toyota, and b) happy this guy got out of jail (perhaps due to the car now being seen as at fault.) There was also some other mistake made in court on the part of the defendent’s atty. (may have been the D.A. instead, but I don’t recall what the mistake was and which atty made it.)

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      A hot filament will fail when mechanically stressed in a different fashion from a cold filament. A cold filament will likely snap, while a hot filament will stretch before breaking. It can be observed by an engineer or a metallurgist looking under the microscope. Taking into consideration the warmup and cooldown characteristics of the filament, one can conclude pretty decisively whether the brakes were being applied during the crash. Interestingly, the only way to tell from the filament is if it is broken.

      The defendant’s attorney argued that he could not have been applying the brakes, while the defendant insisted that he was. So much for standing by your client.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Can you tell when a brake lamp filament broke? After all this time, is there a way to to date the failure to the time of the accident and not earlier? Can filaments break absent an impact while hot? Ductile failure – I’d guess so, although it seems less likely given the amount of time on the brakes vs not on the brakes. Still, I as a juror would find this pretty sketchy if only one lamp’s filament was found to be broken hot from an 80 to 90mph collision . And tced is right, the lamps get as hot when you just ride the brake as when you actually use it. But could it be that the driver was on the go pedal hard and the brake pedal lightly? Also pretty sketchy.

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      I believe that the forensics in question are based on a hot filament bending on impact – the heated material is malleable enough that its own momentum will distort its shape under impact-deceleration. A cold one might break, but I suspect it remains largely intact.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    At the time of the accident the car was 10 years old. We don’t know how many miles. Even if the brakes failed, Toyota likely is not to blame. It could be neglected maintenance (bad brake fluid, something rusted etc.).This would explain the “pumping” and no braking. the 96 Camry sure has superb reliability history, no systematic brake problems.

    He could have applied the brakes too softly, hence no skidding and still a broken filament that was “on”. This is a common mistake people make, especially when they fear locking of wheels in pre-ABS cars.

    I wonder why it took 2 years to investigate the filament? that is standard investigation.

    I’m sure brakes fail in Detroit cars all the time too. Just when I see the Ghetto people ($ 2,000 Buick with $ 3,000 rims) and their rust buckets I don’t even want to see the mechanical systems. But since it is Toyota, we can make a news story. I assume this guy is the UA-believers new hero :-)

    I feel sorry for him if he really was wrongfully convicted… but I don’t see any evidence one way or another.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Mr. Lee’s life was ruined by this incident, not to mention the familes of the deceased; his demeanor and the circumstances indicate that he is incapable of the crime for which he was jailed. But this is true for many people.

    Toyota will be next on the hook – guaranteed – even if the car was not fitted with an e-throttle, although it would be unfair to assume that this case is representative of other UA cases in other vehicles.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Lee was convicted of homicide, not manslaughter. The author states “but if Lee is not guilty, one must assume that his car is”.

    Like most fatal incidents involving SUA, this is certainly a case of a pedal misapplication. The prosecutor should have tried him on a lesser charge. Lee is not guilty of homicide. Neither is Toyota. The author’s charge is ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      danman75

      Telegraph Road, your reply does not make sense. Voluntary manslaughter is a form of homicide. In other words, “homicide” is a generic term that encompasses various killing-related crimes, like first degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      @danman

      At the risk of bringing Pop Culture into this I have to agree about the homicide v. manslaughter because of the case involving Michael Jackson. I remember them talking about charging his doctor with homicide and I remember thinking, “Why would his doctor kill him?” to prevent this going too far astray I recall hearing somebody state that homicide just means that someone died at the hands of another and it doesn’t necessarily take into account intent.

  • avatar
    peachtartsandtea

    I’m not buying any of this. This man can barely speak English and he dangerously overloaded an older compact car with six people. There were no skid marks but he did indeed brake. That means nothing, except that he braked too late and too softly. He belongs in jail and I hope he gets sued into oblivion. Toyota should not take the rap for this…..this is not a discussion on immigration. However, many foreign-born drivers buy older cars, they do not maintain them properly, and they stress these tired vehicles beyond their limits.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      Non-English speaking people do also know how to drive. Some drive old, cheap cars, some drive new, expensive cars. I know a lot of English speaking US citizens that also drive old, cheap cars. I also know a lot that drive new, expensive cars.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      me foreign born. Have 2005 Mazda 3 and 2007 Mazda 6. Both are maintained by Mazda dealer and get every reasonable service.

      I see many “US-born” people with the cars you are describing.

      I think you are referring to immigrants who are poor (=coming from south of the border). But “US-born” people show the same negligence when it comes to cars.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @peachtartsandtea:
      Baloney. Both the defense’s and prosecutor’s engineers confirmed there was nothing wrong with Mr. Lee’s car.

      As an American-born person, I recently got rid of a 12-year-old car that died on the road, even though it had been maintained meticulously. And I’ve driven a 15-year-old car that was pretty good until I traded it. I’m sure others here have much older cars.

      Your claims about foreign-born car owners are offensive.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    For now I’m still not going with the “Audi 5000″ explanation as the all encompassing answer to SUA. I may, depending on what the NASA boys have to say, but not yet.

    Still, this is a strange decision. It must have had mostly to do with ineffective counsel.

  • avatar
    Boff

    The original conviction for homicide was a miscarriage of justice, even if he WAS standing erroneously on the accelerator (which I happen to think he was). Had I been in his shoes, I would have asked for trial by judge. (Unless I was guilty, of course).

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    Seems like an odd decision by the judge. Ineffective legal counsel? That rarely flies. The judge probably just felt homicide was too harsh in this case. Manslaughter at worst.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    I’m more frightened that this man could wind up in jail at all. I didn’t realize you could go to prison for a traffic accident where you were not drinking, not asleep at the wheel (my assumption since he actually got on the exit ramp), and not suicidal.

    I thought there was an implication that you take on risk when you get on the roads in your car while you drive at high speeds surrounded by other people driving at high speeds. All while encased in odd contraptions that have thousands of moving parts. Barring gross negligence, I am amazed you can go to prison when something goes awry.

    I have a modern car (with fuel injection, lots of computers, ABS, cruise control etc) and it used to have this nasty habit of stalling while at speed. You’d be traveling at 70mph and suddenly realize something was amiss because… well… it freaking stalled. The first time this happened I can attest that I pumped the brake and the accelerator pedals because I had no clue what was happening. I tried shifting into neutral and restarting – but I got nothing (not even a starter crank). I even tested the radio only to find it didn’t work either. It’s kind of an odd experience/feeling when your ECU kills your entire car while at speed.

    My actions with the brake were the most stupid reaction ever because pumping the brake killed my one lone burst of pressure assisted braking. If I hadn’t been on a super-flat highway I wouldn’t have had the extra 200 or so feet I needed to stop the car when I pulled on the shoulder. I couldn’t have made skid marks because I couldn’t apply much braking force while standing on the pedal (yes, the brake pedal). I would hope the filaments on my brake lights were on or else it’s a trip to the penitentiary if I run into someone.

    I don’t want go to jail because my under-warranty car has a finicky ECU that likes to shut off, and I had no clue what was happening. Maybe the jury has some people that view me as a foreigner who stands on gas-pedals, or I have difficulty differentiating the pedals through my slanty foreign eyes (based on some of the previous comments, I think there are people who want to see foreigners go to jail?)

    The second and 3rd times this occurred I immediately went on the brake and pulled over ASAP. But the first time – it wasn’t an emergency procedure that I had practiced, and I didn’t have a script to follow in my head since it was a new experience.

    I will swear under oath that I did not fall asleep at the wheel and my almost new car was in a very good state of repair (ie, I didn’t piggyback some MSD aftermarket ignition coil on my car). The moral is that bad things can happen to any car due to the level of complexity involved.

    Can you imagine what other unfortunate oddities can befall vehicles out there that are on the roads? The media and the public at large seem to assert there are only two extreme cases of failure that can cause accidents. A case of “stuck throttle” or a case of “driving standing on gas pedal because you are unqualified to drive.”

    There are many things that can happen in the middle grey area. A high-school buddy had a car where the brake-line-fitting cracked (it was an older car and there was a lot of rust on the rear calipers/suspension). It was as if someone opened a bleeder screw right before you hit the brakes. He lost braking power as the brake master cylinder could only apply braking to two wheels. He went into cross-traffic on a busy road, but luckily we were okay. I mean, he was STANDING on the pedal and the tires never screeched even though it took an extra 30 feet to stop the car (and no, we didn’t actually speed up entering the intersection because he knew which pedal was the brake).

    We’re talking about hundreds of millions of miles traveled by all manner of people in vehicles exhibiting unknown attributes of wear. Go trace your brake pedal and gas pedal from linkage to linkage and tell me how many moving parts, pressure hoses, cables, and computers you find. The fact that a failure here can send you to prison is rather disconcerting.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      @holydonut…..just curious, what year and make car with the ECU problem. 2005-07 Corolla/Matrix/Vibe?

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      I’ve been instructed to never divulge the make and model. But at least I can still attest it did occur to my vehicle and it is now repaired.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      MIB?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      My 2004 Smart ForTwo likes to shut-off after running for ca. 1 hour … doesn’t matter what I am doing at the time … when it happens, I have to tap the power-on button and everything comes back on-line and nothing exciting happens…

      Most of my trips are under 1 hour, so it rarely bothers me, and just about the time I’ve forgotten this oddity, I have to take a trip of more than 1-hour … sometimes I am cruising the left lane at ca. 100 mph (no, I’m not Baruth, I’m on the Autobahn) – tap, re-set the cruise-control and keep on motorin’… Other times I am in a curve and that same re-start sequence makes me feel like Maverick and Goose trying to restart after a flame-out well below the hard-deck defined by Viper…

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      @1996: Lawyers

      It’s actually too bad that TTAC forced NHTSA to close their complaint database. There were many reported instances of vehicles stalling while in motion. The models that build up a critical mass would then get a NHTSA investigation. The ones that didn’t add up to much became instances where car owners were SOL unless they took the matter into their own hands.

  • avatar
    Tortoiseme

    This man spent 2 years in jail for Killing 3 people, almost certainly due to his own negligence (pedal misapplication/worn tires/just plain not paying attention and braking too late) I hardly call that a miscarriage of justice.
    I don’t believe it was intentional homicide, nor do I believe it was SUA.

  • avatar

    Certainly there is very clear evidence that this man had a very cavalier attitude towards automotive safety. If a man doesn’t care enough to protect and safeguard his own family you have to wonder how much he cares about strangers. This guy was on a highway driving his car with his wife and 4 small children all under the age of 5. The last time I checked the 96 Camry only has 3 rear seat belts and most 5 year olds need a car seat. Where was the 4th child sitting and in what kind of seat?

    Any way you look at it this guy was breaking the law long before he hit the other car and had likely been doing so on numerous other occasions. To me, this shows a clear pattern of reckless endangerment and disregard for human life while operating a motor vehicle. There is no doubt there needs to be a new trial.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Right result, but arrived at the wrong way. Leaving the car out of the equation, does it make any sense at all that a guy in a car full of his family would deliberately ram other vehicles sitting at a stoplight? It sure doesn’t to me. But what makes even less sense is that a driver fuck-up, by an otherwise unimpaired driver (i.e. not drunk or stoned) gets 8 years in the joint.

    Since when do you go to jail for being in a fatal accident that is your fault?

    Sadly, I think the only answer to that question is: When you are foreign born, don’t speak English too well and find yourself in the sights of an over-zealous prosecutor who is responding to public pressure to “do something” about what may have been a widely publicized case.

    For that reason alone, I think the guy should have been set free. At best, this was negligent homicide (the typical charge made against drunk drivers in a fatal accident) and, how did the state sustain its burden of proving negligence beyond a reasonable doubt, with a stone sober, unimpaired driver?

    Obviously, something went wrong, because he slammed his car into other cars at 50 miles an hour. But driver negligence isn’t the only possible cause of this situation; mechanical failure is also a possible cause. And, for example, if there is evidence that the brake lights were illuminated at the time of the crash — even without any skid marks — I don’t think that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the driver at fault, not the car.

    It’s not necessary to “convict” the car in order to acquit the driver.

    In my opinion, this is a prosecution that never should have been brought and, I suspect, that with a better lawyer and/or a US-born defendant it never would have been brought, or would have been resolved with a plea bargain with 30-90 days incarceration and community service.

    If every drunk got this kind of treatment, there would be a lot fewer of them on the road and a lot more of them locked up.

    • 0 avatar
      dmw

      Why would the victims’ families sue Toyota specifically related to this case? There was no evidence produced that something was wrong with his car constituting an intervening cause, and the defendant was not obligated to prove that there was to be acquitted. The case says nothing new or interesting about uninteded accelleration or how the justice system will deal with it, or issues of causation and proof in criminal trials in general. So the premise of this post is false and the attempted tie in to the Toyota SUA issue thus fails completely.

      The real story here is that the size of your bank account and your judgement in hiring counsel determines your rights to due process under the Constition. What kind of “experts” did the defendant hire in the initial trial? And the comments above here about how foreigners maintain their cars or the bearing of seat belt law compliance on the case prove that the whether the jury system promotes justice and can stem abuses by the State’s lawyers relies substantially on the defendant’s lawyer’s skill in voir dire.

  • avatar
    obbop

    There is ample visible evidence daily in areas with sizable percentages of “Oriental” drivers, especially those who are not second generation or later immigrants, of the oft-said/heard “Driving while Oriental.”

    Years in the San Francisco Bay area observing the populace while out and about in their vehicles makes it rather obvious that too many “oriental” drivers are lacking in the skills needed to become “good” drivers….. with “good” an admittedly subjective term/label.

    Suffice it to utter that it requires the due diligence of those of average and better driving ability to make numerous allowances for the often incredibly inane/stupid/unaware of their environment driving errors of a “certain group” from the eastern areas of Asia.

    While the “politically correct” mob will likely lambaste the Disgruntled Old Coot for my observations and current mumble I thumb my nose at those who emotions and indoctrination prohibits them from seeing/observing/interpreting what I and so MANY others have seen and commented upon over the years.

    Yes, yes, yes… exceptions exist!!!!!! But generalities and truisms occur and are typically based upon facts and reality.

    Accept it and LOOK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mrs. Wong just ran yet another red light!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    Tortoiseme

    It may be that some generalities, and stereotypes, stem from observed behavoir, however I certainly wouldn’t want a conviction based on these stereotypes.
    That said – HE KILLED 3 PEOPLE! Serving some time in jail is not Unjust!
    No one here really believes that it was the cars fault and not his is there?!?

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      If anything, this goes to show there is a deplorable amount of systemic racism in America. And the worst part is that people use this racism to form some sort of rationale that justice is served due to reasons explained by racism.

      Do you all realize that there are multiple causes of accidents? Some are driver related, some are weather related, and some are mechanical related.

      Being a foreigner doesn’t automatically create accidents and cannot be used to prove guilt to send someone to jail. But evidently there are many people who can easily rationalize a proximate chain of relationships linking Slant-Eyes with auto-accidents. Wow.

      There is a statistical evidence from NHTSA that the majority of drunk drivers are white males.

      Does that mean we should make generalizations that white males are irresponsible drivers after 10pm?

      Should we just blame drunk driving on all late-night auto accidents involving white males even if the driver BAC is 0%?

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      Sorry, I clicked on the wrong comment. Meant to reply to the “old coot.”

      Looks like I need to go take my English as a Second Language course again.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Let me say that when I first heard about the story I thought that it was absurd. I’ve been hearing about it since the the Toyota recall since I live up here in Minnesota. I kept thinking that they wouldn’t let him off because the car wasn’t even involved in the recall to begin with. I don’t know if it would be appropriate to call this “guilt by association” on the part of the car (insofar as an inanimate – well not living – object can be guilty). I thought the whole thing was a big waste.

    That being said I can understand about cars being in various states of repair. I had a 91 LeSabre that I bought from a friend of mine’s mother and she told me that I needed breaks. I figured she meant pads and shoes, but it turns out there was a crack about a foot long in the steel breaklines. I was on an enterance to a fairly busy freeway in my area and was holding back on speeding up because I knew the breaks were in need of attention. The driver at the actual entrance to the freeway hit his brakes and I, still fairly close to the top of the ramp, hit mine. Nothing happened and I decided it was best to put the car in the ditch rather than the guys back end.

    I can’t say anything about repairs and maintenance because I know things get expensive. Needless to say after that happened I immediatedly went to spend the $200 on new breaklines for the car (I’d known about the problem and was saving to get them done).

    In the end feces happen and you have to work with it. I don’t necessarily agree with the judge’s decision or the prosecutor’s decision not to bring new charges, but it is what it is.

  • avatar
    jenneil624

    I believe that automotive crashes ahould be treated as accidents unless clearly proven otherwise. The death of innocent people in a crash is very tragic, but it does not mean that the driver of the “offending” vehicle needs to go to jail. Society enters a slippery slope when people are imprisoned for accidents. We don’t generally lock up parents whose children drown in swimming pools. Isn’t that equally as tragic? Where I live on Long Island, 5-10 kids drown every summer. Poor supervision? Aloof parenting? Yes. The police haven’t been arresting the supervising adult (unless there are some extraordinary circumstances).
    Do we want to arrest people for car accidents? I think too many people say “yes” if their family is harmed – but “no” when someone in their family does the harm. The level of injury sustained by the victim should not be the sole determination of the level of punishment for the offender.

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    jenneil624, You are right and “clearly proven otherwise” is correct – the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you. Accidents do happen.
    But it’s interesting to me that many are having a hard time wrapping their brain around the fact that killing someone with your car may be a crime. Many seem to think that killing someone with your car should only be a crime if you were intoxicated. Indeed many DAs agree as a practical matter. But if you intentionally run a stop sign and kill a pedestrian, you should go to jail. The killing may have been an accident, but your the running of the stop sign was not. At some point if a person’s shitty driving is accountable for death, they need to go to jail whether or not they were intoxicated. Think about it this analogy, if I shoot someone with a gun, it may not be a crime if it was an accident. But if I like to juggle loaded guns in crowded places, I drop one and it discharges, killing a bystander, that’s a crime. Dropping the gun was an accident but it was an accident that happened with an inherently deadly intrumentality.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      How would you prove that someone intentionally or recklessly ran a stop sign or ran into the back of a stopped car? I understand that the intent differentiates the criminality of the act, there’s also a reason people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

      Proving intent and even the slightest premeditation usually requires some discrete rule. For example, in murder casess, it’s believed that stabbing is always premeditated. This is because most stabbings require a few seconds of contemplation before you plunge a knife (lots of intentional motor control to do the stabbing and the general difficulty/knowledge required to make a fatal stab wound with a single thrust).

      I’m not sure how one would go about defining an “intent” rule regarding auto accidents without some obvious externally observable cue (ie: DUI, asleep, texting, blogging about it beforehand, etc).

    • 0 avatar
      danman75

      @holydonut

      Intent (at least in criminal cases) is almost always proved with circumstantial evidence. For example, in shooting death murder cases, few defendants ever shout, “My intent is to kill you!” prior to shooting the gun at the victim. Without this direct evidence, the prosecutor would prove intent to kill with circumstantial evidence, i.e., evidence that the defendant pointed the gun at the victim, the defendant aimed the gun at a vital organ of the victim’s body, the defendant pulled the trigger, and the defendant ran away.

      With vehicular homicide cases, it’s gets a little tricky. Again, absent any direct evidence that the driver said he intends to kill anyone, the prosecutor would have to rely on circumstantial evidence, i.e., eyewitness testimony that the defendant’s car did not slow down prior to impact, the impact was at an outrageous speed, no skid marks, brakes were working properly, etc. This circumstantial evidence, viewed as a whole, raises the reasonable inference that defendant intended to kill.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      Totally agree with you regarding the murder with firearms – the general rule for homeowners shooting intruders is to empty their clip and shoot out of fear… because there is intent to kill the moment you shoot someone in the back or in the forehead.

      I also agree that there needs to be a fair trial to sort this out. My concern is that I don’t think foreigners can get a fair trial when their jury is composed of white folks who think Asians cannot drive. I’m not saying you’re racist; I’m saying there is a severe amount of racism that can be used to rationalize intent and guilt. And this is evident based on many comments posted by others thus far.

      If you read my long post above I site two separate instances that can cause a vehicle to “have no brakes” through pure accident (or at least it’s an unintentional accident from my point of view).

      Upon examination of my ECU you would have found no error codes, because the saved codes simply assumed the driver just switched off the ignition and took out the key (which would be hard to do since you can’t put the car in park while it’s moving, but I digress).

      You’d just have witnesses seeing a foreign driver who doesn’t know how to slow down because he must be too stupid to know how to drive. No skid marks and no obvious brake-system failure. But you could have dead white people and another foreigner behind bars. I think the standard of proof should be higher regarding automobile accident fatalities, and that’s why I think it needs to be objective with very clear evidence of recklessness or intent.

      tankinbeans also validates a same possibility with his brakes since the pressure hoses / fittings on cars can fail.

      But some people think “well if it’s not SUA then it’s driver error for standing on the gas pedal.” Look at how easy it is for people to automatically assume high speed collisions have only two unique causal triggers. Throw in racism and you have a scenario where you’re guilty until proven innocent with brake filaments.

      Sometimes bad things happen, but you shouldn’t always go to jail just because there are people who think foreigners cannot drive. I’m more concerned about how easily people rationalize how it’s okay to be racist when it can send someone to jail.

    • 0 avatar
      danman75

      @holydonut:

      Well, I was glad to read you don’t think I’m a racist. It would be odd for me to racist against Asian-Americans, since I am one.

      Anyway, that aside, the issue of whether “foreigners” can get a fair trial here in the U.S. could fill volumes, both pro and con. That said, do I believe racism and cruel stereotypes still exist in this country? Absolutely! I would be a fool or painfully naive to believe otherwise. On the other hand, do I believe that the U.S., more so than any other country, gives me the opportunity to sink or swim in life based on my own merits, rather than my race or “class”? Again, absolutely!

      I’m not sure what my point is in this comment. I just felt like expressing it.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      I’m Asian too – but you don’t really consider that to be a positive or negative until you see issues like this. Suddenly you are reminded that many people are content bringing up racial cues to explain unfortunate situations and assign blame.

      I don’t think this is helped that people force everything into absolutes.

      Edward N’s tone in posting this article basically says if it’s not the driver then it must be the car: “it’s obvious that the 1996 Toyota Camry is having the burden of proof shoved squarely on its shoulders.”

      This invites people to say “well it’s not the car, so it should have been the driver all along.”

      And then the subset of racist people say “well it’s not the car, so it must have been the driver because he’s a foreigner and irresponsible.”

      What ever happened to “it was an accident” with any number of possible causes?

    • 0 avatar
      NorthwestT

      @holydonut There is no intent requirement for a crime to be committed. Intentional actions raise the level of criminality. Classically speaking malice aforethought is the difference between manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The idea is that negligence can be criminal. So, if you run a stop sign and kill someone, you have been negligent because you failed to follow the posted rule. You were at least negligent whether you were drunk, sober, texting or otherwise not paying attention.

      It’s interesting to me that many don’t think they should be held responsible for accidental fuckups.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      Yes there should be punishment, but 8 years in prison is absurd. Lots of cases result in death with minimal or no incarceration. Plain and simple Lee got hosed because he had a horrible lawyer and somebody had an agenda to prove.

      I bring up race because to non-whites, it can be a serious factor in things even when your best intentions are for it to remain a non-issue. I believe Lee would not have received 8 years in jail had he been a person of higher social standing in Minnesota (aka white).

      Man hit and runs a homeless pedestrian. 20 days in jail:
      http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/news/cityregion/25020138-41/harris-mccoy-judge-lane-likely.csp

      Man drives his car into another person’s house and kills the man in the house. No jail time:
      http://www.wyff4.com/r/21626728/detail.html

      City administrator killed while crossing the road. Driver gets no jail time even with a suspended license:
      http://www.silive.com/northshore/index.ssf/2010/07/no_jail_for_graniteville_motor.html

      Vehicular homicide downgraded to vehicular manslaughter. Defendant received 3 months in jail:
      http://dailyadvocate.com/main.asp?SectionID=108&SubSectionID=388&ArticleID=136065

      NFL player DUI-kills a man. 30 days:
      http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2009/06/cleveland_browns_fans_stunned.html

      Mother starves 16 month old baby to death. No prison/jail (it’s not car related):
      http://jonathanturley.org/2010/04/26/mother-starves-16-month-baby-to-death-receives-no-jail-time/

  • avatar
    Sandy A

    I have been following this case for a long time. There are several facts missing from recent media reports including CNN.

    First, there was a recall for the 1996 Camry due to a defect in the cruise control. This defect was shown to lead to unintended acceleration. However, for some reason the recall was limited. It did not include all 1996 Camry’s and only those with certain serial numbers. I don’t remember the details. I do know that the Camry in question here was not included in the recall. Since we know that Toyota has actively tried to limit recalls in the past, we can assume that it is also possible in this case.

    Second, it was stated in the trial by an expert for the prosecution that the 1996 Camry did not have an ABS and would therefore have left skid marks if the brakes had been applied. The defense didn’t counter this. We know of course that the 1996 Camry in question does in fact have ABS and would not have left skid marks during braking.

    Third, the expert witness for the defense in 2007 never investigated recalls related to the Camry and never considered the cruise control of the car as a possible problem.

    Clearly, the defense did a horrible job of defending the client.

    I have to agree with others who have posted that just because he got out of jail and the prosecutors aren’t going to try him again doesn’t mean he wasn’t stepping on the gas instead of the brakes. It only means that they either don’t have sufficient evidence to convict him a second time, or that they don’t believe taxpayer dollars would be appropriately used to try him again.

    Another piece of information that isn’t widely mentioned. The prosecutors offerred Lee a plea bargain just before the judge ruled in favor of Lee. Under the plea bargain Lee would be released from jail but his conviction would stand. Lee refused, insisting that he was innocent. Then, hours later, after the judge called for a new trial, they said they were not going to retry the case. To me that indicates that the prosecutors believed that they no longer had sufficient evidence to convict Lee a second time, especially considering the filament data that was not refuted by expert witnesses for the prosecution. The only thing the prosecution witnesses testified towards was that the car brakes appeared to be operating normally. That doesn’t mean they operated properly during the accident.


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