LINO LAKES, Minn. – Ever since his 1996 Toyota Camry shot up an interstate ramp, plowing into the back of an Oldsmobile in a horrific crash that killed three people, Koua Fong Lee insisted he had done everything he could to stop the car.

A jury didn’t believe him, and a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. But now, new revelations of safety problems with Toyotas have Lee pressing to get his case reopened and his freedom restored. Relatives of the victims — who condemned Lee at his sentencing three years ago — now believe he is innocent and are planning to sue Toyota. The prosecutor who sent Lee to prison said he thinks the case merits another look.

“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 at 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.”

Lee’s accident is among a growing number of cases, some long resolved, that are getting new attention since Toyota admitted its problems with sudden acceleration were more extensive than originally believed. Numerous lawsuits involving Toyota accidents have been filed over the recent revelations, and attorneys expect the numbers will climb. If Lee’s car was defective, “We don’t want an innocent man sitting in prison,” said Phil Carruthers, who prosecuted the case for Ramsey County.

A Toyota spokesman declined to comment on Lee’s case.

Could this problem go as far back as 1996? Wouldn’t it have been discovered sooner?




  1. jescott418 says:

    I don’t believe a 96′ Toyota has drive by wire. So that eliminates the pedal theory. That would also mean in order to get the car going fast the throttle plate would have to either be stuck open by a object or the throttle cable would have had to stick. I just wonder how many people will cry foul to get Toyota to take the blame? I am sure the lawyers are loving it!

  2. Breetai says:

    Ohhhh…. Massive culture clash here. Their integrity and coming out with the truth is going to get them sued out of existence with this.

    Everyone who’s ever been hit by a Toyota is going to sue.

  3. spsffan says:

    I have a 1995 Camry and it is not drive by wire. They redid the body for 96, but I don’t know about the mechanicals. In any event, the recalls only go back to 2001 models (I think). They certainly don’t go back to 1995 as THAT would have caught my attention!

    I think Mr. Lee suffers from the same thing as George Weller who plowed his Buick into the Santa Monica Farmers Market, killing 8 people back in 2003. I know someone who was hit (but not killed) in that one. He still IIRC claims to have been jamming his foot on the brake pedal as hard as he could. Yeah, right!

  4. spsffan says:

    You know, if automobiles didn’t already exist in large numbers and you were trying to bring them to market in today’s legal climate, it would never work.

    I mean, you want to have several tons of steel, backed by a hundred or more horsepower, carrying a load of extremely flammable liquid, piloted mostly by amateurs and capable of speeds of 100 mph roaming the city streets???? And the “drivers” are required to carry only $50,000 or so of liability insurance, and half of them will manage to weasel out of even that???

    Are you mad or just stupid??

  5. Macbandit says:

    This is ambulance chasing BS.

  6. Mike in Fort Worth says:

    I have a 1999 Camry and it is not “drive by wire.” We have over 120,000k on the car and it has never given us a single problem. This looks like a guy grasping at any reason to justify an appeal.

  7. Professor Candela says:

    “On the plane was a Time magazine and there was a 30 page article on diabetes, and I read every page. By the time that plane landed, I had diabetes” – Lewis Black

  8. hhopper says:

    Lewis Black is as funny as it gets.

  9. Special Ed says:

    I think this was just a case of DWO.

    /driving while oriental

  10. Zybch says:

    Sad to see so many assholes trying to use a very rare incident as a way to wriggle out of their responsibility for driving safely and dragging the name and reputation of arguably the best auto company into the mud along with them.

  11. IScott says:

    While the 90’s Toyotas were not drive by wire, they were subject to a different recall due to something with the cruise control causing sudden acceleration. When you add that to the way Toyota has acted toward this whole incident (it’s the floor mats, no it’s not the floor mats it’s the drive by wire system, well it’s not just the drive by wire system and we’re not sure how to fix it), I’m inclined to give this guy the benefit of the doubt; especially since he was driving his child and pregnant wife home from church when the accident happened and the victims family seem to have united behind him.

    Also there might be some truth to the DWO comment. Apparently his trial happened within months of a highly publicized trial one state over where another Hmong man was convicted of killing three hunters in 2004.

  12. Jägermeister says:

    We had this happen with a Toyota Tercel. We crossed an intersection before managed to stop the car. I doubt it had electronics to control the breaks, but it sure as hell didn’t work that time. We never experienced this problem again, but it was in our minds every time we drove that car.

  13. Killer Duck says:

    #4 is dead on. Basically we will eventually not be able to produce anything new. Liability will outweigh profitability. We’ll regulate ourselves out of being competitive in the world market.

  14. spsffan says:

    “driving his child and pregnant wife home from church when the accident happened”

    Well, there’s 2 strikes against him right there. First, he’s overpopulating the planet*, second, he believes in imaginary divine beings up in the sky controlling everything!

    *Yeah, I know. He killed 3 so he’s technically nets a -1.

  15. bdgbill says:

    There is no production car in the world who’s engine can overpower it’s brakes, period.

    If you jump in a Ferrari and mash the accelerator while pressing the brakes, the car will go nowhere. If you are driving any car at 100 mph and mash both pedals to the floor, the car will stop. It may take a few extra meters to stop but it will stop.

    This whole thing happened years ago with Audi and nearly destroyed the company. It turned out that almost every driver that experienced the problem was short, female and/or elderly.

    Sudden acceleration is half the problem at best. the other half is people freaking out and panicking because their car did something unexpected.

  16. The0ne says:

    #4
    My fear is on the other end. You have green loving fanatics in their hybrids zooming at over 100mph while looking at their navs. Imagine less weight, weaker materials, much much weaker performance in almost every category and couple that with a green loving amateur driver.

    Thank aliens that I have a sense of humor to stop and laugh at these green loving idiots before driving off and leaving them in their green “peace.”

    Here in San Diego, I drive from Mission Valley to Carlsband. There’s not a single day that I don’t see more than 5 Prius drivers at that speed. :)

  17. Bah Humbug says:

    “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,”> To me just that proves he is lying or he dreamed he did just before he woke up and plowed into that car.

  18. chuck says:

    I guess “doing everything he could” didn’t include putting the car into neutral or park.

  19. Hmeyers says:

    Even if Toyota’s brand diminishes, I won’t buy a General Motors or Ford piece of shit.

    I’d buy a Honda!

    I would have said I wouldn’t buy an “American brand”, but all the “Japanese” cars are made in a factory in the USA these days.

  20. Greg Allen says:

    Isn’t it suicidal to ram your Toyota into an Oldsmobile at high speed?

    Anyway, the Toyota acceleration problems give this conviction reasonable doubt.

  21. Greg Allen says:

    >> chuck said, on February 25th, 2010 at 3:43 pm
    >> I guess “doing everything he could” didn’t include putting the car into neutral or park.

    According to testimony of surviving victims, that doesn’t work. I have to admit this seems improbable from the cars I’ve owned but I also really don’t know how these high tech computer controlled cars work anymore.

    One of the dead victims was a California Highway Patrol officer who, I have no doubt, would keep his head in a situation like that.

  22. noname says:

    # 15 bdgbill,

    Your the only smart one in this group of idiots.

  23. admash says:

    I thought this was the interesting part:

    “Relatives of the victims — who condemned Lee at his sentencing three years ago — now believe he is innocent and are planning to sue Toyota.”

    Wow, I guess the discovery of a more lucrative law suit changes one’s perspective?

  24. noname says:

    # 23 admash,

    Right on, if Lee is guilty they can’t sue Toyota. It’s all about the money and power.

    Before the relatives felt empowered to watch an innocent man imprisoned. Now they fell impoverished because they can’t sue Toyota.

  25. … ] link is being shared on Twitter right now. @zenx, an influential author, said RT @1ndus: Xtreme … ]

  26. ScottLC says:

    No car’s acceleration can override it’s braking? You really believe that or you just pulled it out of thin air? I have at least two cars in the driveway right now whose brakes can’t hold them, one being a 70’s Eldo (front drive) and the other being a Jag(both 4 whl disc). From a standing start acceleration is minimal but at speed if the throttle were open I have no doubt stopping would be almost impossible.

    But most of the point here, at least with the new Toyo-crap: The brakes are electronically controlled as well as the throttle. The only brakes the driver even has in this situation is the cable controlled rear parking brake. This is insufficient stopping power for any car because the rear brakes do only a fraction of the energy reduction under any circumstances and even if they can stop the rear wheels there is little weight there. You’ll simply drag the tires.

    Whether this guy is guilty or not I have no idea, but it’s immaterial to the Toyota issue. They have a real problem and it’s going to cost them more than they may be able to pay.