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Toyota's unintended acceleration problems mean freedom for Minn.
Automotive News | August 6, 2010 -
2:02 pm EST
|ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A Minnesota man has been
released from a vehicular homicide conviction because of safety doubts
about the Toyota Camry he was driving when he killed three people in
Ramsey County, Minn., District Judge Joanne Smith vacated the
conviction of Koua Fong Lee, 32, who had been sentenced to an eight-year
sentence for killing a man and two young children.
mother and grandmother of those killed, said she was happy that an
innocent man was going free.
All told, Toyota has recalled 11.2
million vehicles globally -- including 9.2 million in the United States --
for sticky pedals and other defects since last fall. The automaker in
April agreed to pay a record $16.4 million U.S. fine over delayed defect
notifications related to the sticky pedal problems.
accident involved Lee ramming his 1996 Camry into the rear of an
Oldsmobile Ciera sedan, killing its three occupants. During his trial, Lee
steadfastly maintained on the witness stand that he was stepping on the
brake, but the car would not stop.
During the trial, his attorney
told jurors in his closing argument that Lee must have been accidentally
stepping on the accelerator, rather than the brake.
The judge ruled
that Lee's attorney had erred by not presenting the evidence that Lee had
been stepping on the brake, and by failing to uncover evidence that
existed at the time about defects arising from unintended
Shortly after the judge's ruling, Ramsey County
Attorney Susan Gaertner said she would not pursue a new trial or appeal
the court's ruling.
“I respect the judge, and I respect her ruling,
and I believe it is time to bring this very tragic situation to a close,”
Gaertner said in a written statement.
While having his conviction
vacated, the manslaughter charges will remain on Lee's record, he will
remain on probation for 15 years, and will have no driving privileges for
The family of the victims killed in the crash have since
filed suit against Toyota.
Koua Fong Lee and his wife, Panghoua Moua,
appear at a press conference after his release Thursday from the Ramsey
County, Minn., Jail.
Photo credit: Ben Garvin/St. Paul Pioneer
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