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Koua Fong Lee can't seem to catch a break. Lee was convicted of killing three people in 2006 when his Toyota Camry struck a vehicle at a stoplight, but he was later freed after prosecutors discovered that Lee may have been a victim of unintended acceleration. He served two and a half years in prison while the justice system ground along, and now Toyota has subpoenaed his 1996 Camry. The manufacturer wants Lee to turn the car over for an examination on the quick. Unfortunately, Lee no longer has the car. It's been locked up in the custody of the St. Paul Police Department since the 2006 accident.

With Lee's name clear, a total of four federal lawsuits have been filed against Toyota by the family members of those killed in the accident. Each claims that Toyota knew of the unintended acceleration issue well before the Lee accident and failed to follow up on those reports in any substantial way. Meanwhile, Toyota claims that the accident wasn't due to unintended acceleration. You can see the conundrum here. If Toyota proves that the accident wasn't the result of unintended acceleration, then it may be the case that Lee was at fault.

Lee's lawyer has expressed obvious concern over allowing Toyota to examine the vehicle unsupervised. So for now, it remains in St. Paul PD custody.

[Source: The Pioneer Press | Image: Ben Garvin, AP Photo/Pioneer Press]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      So the verdict is not out yet?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I agree that the car should be examined by independent experts, and not Toyota. It was a 10-year-old car, so it could have been a stuck accelerator cable, or even a stuck throttle body, if the car wasn't well maintained. But, I would like to see what investigators come back with.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Give the guy a break. If you see 80% of Asians drive badly, what are you going to assume of the next Asian you see - that he is the next Michael Schumacher?

      We are all cool with generalizing the pensioners/retirees that claim "unintended acceleration" after driving through a storefront, but we can't generalize a group based on ethnicity?

      We live in a world of PC gone too far.

      • 4 Years Ago
      @kennethmam Go away.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Proving unintended acceleration is a daunting task especially after the accident. However, as in the case with Lee, it is a very simple procedure to prove whether or not the brake was being applied at the time of the accident and whether or not the vehicle contained an anit-lock braking system which Lee's camry did. Lee's new attorneys appealed to the judge for a new trial based upon the aforementioned facts that were not presented during the initial trial. They did not say that they had proof that the car experienced unintended acceleration. They simply argued that there were reports of unintended acceleration from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for other 1996 Camrys. This created a possibility that Mr. Lee was indeed telling the truth. We are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This is clearly a case of reasonable doubt, and the prosecutors office obviously felt the same way.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Man Toyota is being FUBAR'd left and right...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I miss the Toyota of old to the point where it baffles me as to why they have become the world's largest auto company. Anyone remember the days of drop top 4-Runners, purposeful Tacomas, and Supras? Add to that the fact that all of their trucks have grown exponentially and they somehow manage to gain the reputation of being "green"?

      Despite such strong opinions on my part, it is apparent to me that the whole Toyota accelerator flaw has been blown way out of proportion. Despite some legitimate concerns regarding Toyota's products, the timing combined with the extent of the media coverage was suspect.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Double Jeopardy? I think he's safe.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What do you bet that there are some "Toyota Plants" here? They have been all over the internet trying to save face for Toyota---particularly in the engine oil sludge case. Hopefully, an investigative reporter will track down exactly how Toyota is involved in all this. Wouldn't be as simple as following Toyota's money? Bet they get paid handsomely!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Toyota has shown itself to be rather shady as of late. I wouldn't be surprised that even if they do find that it was in fact unintended acceleration, they fail to admit it. Not impressed.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If I was Mr lee lawyer, I would fight it and have the car look over by a independent party with no ties to Toyota or any of Toyota's partners or Mr lee himself to be fair!

        Honestly, do you think Toyota can not be trusted,You know like they would look at the car and say oh yea it was our fault. Tell the families we will write them all a check!

        How ever , no matter the outcome, I do wonder if he would have to go back to jail if it was found to be his fault and not that of those many recent acceleration problems that has inflicted so many Toyota's! I would be shocked if it was not Toyota's fault! It is sad to think of the ones who lost their life as well as Mr Lee life for 3 years in jail for a crime he did not commit,all because Toyota was too vane about their image to admit they messed up!

        I Say if it is found to be the fault of toyota, then mr toyoda should replace Mr lee in his old jail cell!
        • 4 Years Ago
        And who says he had cruise control on? If there is an issue with a vehicle's electrical system, it doesn't have to be set for it to screw up.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @M22 FWIW, a cable throttle can get stuck too. If anything there's more mechanical items to get jammed up somewhere as compared to an electronic throttle because you don't just have a pedal, you also have the cable running through the firewall to the throttle body. This was actually a fairly common occurrence back in the days when everyone used mechanical throttles but we didn't have the internet or 24 hour cable news to make everyone freak out in paranoia back in those days. And back then people pretty much expected cars to have problems so even if someone reported such a thing in the newspaper it would have been brushed off as the usual thing. Cars have had such improvements in reliability that it seems like the end of the world when something like 1 out of every 10,000 cars has a problem when back in the day it'd have been something more like 1 out of every 3 non-defective cars having the same issue.
        Anyways this poor guy's already served 2 and a half years in jail and frankly even if he screwed up and hit the wrong pedal in a panic that's a pretty harsh punishment-I mean we don't usually throw all those grandpas and grandma's who do the same thing (even with fatalities) in jail but this poor guy couldn't speak English or afford a decent lawyer (he had a free public defender) so he got slapped with the harshest possible sentence that's typically reserved for people who actually *tried* to kill other people with a car or did something insanely reckless (like snorting a line of coke and drinking a 40 while driving).

        Of course with so many people suing Toyota, with each case possibly being worth tens of millions of dollars in damages (not to mention the horrible publicity) Toyota pretty much has to defend itself. And to do that it has to subpoena the car. Maybe this guy should just move back to his home country. I'm not sure if he's from Hong Kong or mainland China but if he can move to mainland China they don't extradite to the United States so regardless of how this court case works out he'd be able to stay out of jail. Then if the court case settles down and it doesn't look like he's going to be hauled back to the slammer he can still come back here.
        • 4 Years Ago
        First, there is a civil suit involved, if anyone inspects the car it should be a court appointed examiner.

        Second, stuck throttles are common among mechanically actuated throttles and poor design can make the occurrence more frequent. I had a Mercedes that repeatedly the throttle would stick due to gum building up on the linkages in the engine compartment. It first occurred when the car was 7 years old and the dealers service writer told me that it was a frequent issue resolved by cleaning the linkage. Corrected the sticking returned 18 months later and after that I simply made disassembling and cleaning the throttle linkages part of the spring maintenance.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm buying Toyota as my next car, so I can blame everything on unintended accelaration in case I get involved in an accident.
        By the way, unintended accelaration has happened all over the world with many different brands (even Benz and BMW).....
        You know and I know... we all know why.....
        • 4 Years Ago
        there's this word... "lately"
        it exist
        • 4 Years Ago
        @technomania: He's not Chinese, he's Hmong (this is St. Paul. Huge Hmong population), and they don't have a home country. They're a nomadic people, and the last 'home' country they had was Laos, where they were victims of genocide for siding with the US in the Vietnam war.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Apparently people like M22 don't understand that these vehicles have cruise control, which is controlled by the vehicle's on-board computer, not a cable or a pedal. Not only that, but you act like a mechanical or cable operated throttle can't get stuck.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I disagree with your description of Toyota as being "shady." Toyota's behavior regarding the unintended acceleration problem is caused, in part, by cultural factors that apply to all Japanese corporations. I discuss this in my most recent blog post titled

        What do Tiger Woods and Toyota Have In Common?


        Timothy M Mojonnier
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Minimum Lutz

        If you're fading means seeing lotsa damn Camry every where when I drive then yes, toyota is totally fading.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Toyota has shown itself to be rather shady as of late. I wouldn't be surprised that even if they do find that it was in fact unintended acceleration, they fail to admit it. Not impressed."

        And yet Toyota's recent "shady" character is irrelevant to the entire question.

        Supposedly the Camry he drove had a cable operated throttle and couldn't suffer "unintended acceleration" like the new cars. If his gas pedal wasn't stuck to the floor, and there weren't any freak mechanical problem, he shouldn't have been let go.
        • 4 Years Ago
        techno: "@M22 FWIW, a cable throttle can get stuck too. If anything there's more mechanical items to get jammed up somewhere as compared to an electronic throttle because you don't just have a pedal"

        I guess you missed the part where I said 'barring the pedal being stuck to the floor, or some other mechanical problem, etc.'

        Trying to use the recent "unintended acceleration" problem to prove that an old, unrelated and mechanically dissimilar car suffered the same problem is beyond the pale of all logic and reason. And that's what they tried to do here.
        • 4 Years Ago
        mrclickerson: "Apparently people like M22 don't understand that these vehicles have cruise control, which is controlled by the vehicle's on-board computer, not a cable or a pedal. Not only that, but you act like a mechanical or cable operated throttle can't get stuck."

        And evidently people like Mr. Clickerson lack even the very basics of reading comprehension and understanding.

        Here, I'll lay it out simply:

        His car had a cable operated throttle. Because it had a cable operated throttle, his car couldn't suffer (as said before) "the same type of unintended acceleration that the new cars can." Consequently, using the recent spate of "unintended acceleration" accidents to prove that Lee's crash wasn't his fault is a logical farce.

        "Not only that, but you act like a mechanical or cable operated throttle can't get stuck."

        I suggest you re-read the posts. And please, do feel embarrassed afterwards.

        "cruise control"

        Having on cruise control while driving in city traffic would be pretty heavy negligence on his part, wouldn't it? But alas, I can hear the misguided objection now: "the cruise control could have gone haywire."

        And the cruise control "possibly" going haywire isn't proven by pointing to unrelated electrical failures, on unrelated models of cars, that are 15 years newer than his. That's not just the height of fallacious speculation, it's laughably stupid.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What is Toyota really like? Check out these sites to see for yourself...


      Let me guess the next scenario...Toyota's SMART Team will swoop down on the vehicle and determine that the vehicle is absolutely fine with no electronic problems whatsoever! It will then come out with the SPIN that the Toyota owner is full of TOYOTA SLUDGE and just trying to start a big conspiracy against the faultless company! It will then attempt to defame and discredit the person that it indirectly sent to prison for several years!

      OH, MY! What a feeling!!

      The FREE KOUA FONG LEE Facebook group will probably have a lot to say about that! The TOYOTA OWNERS UNITE FOR RESOLUTION (see petition by that name) will as well. Each has seen the real Toyota in action and knows the lengths to which Toyota will go to keep up the myth about its vehicle quality and reliability.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not to mention the fact that Koua's lawyer from 07 blacked out an entire paragraph of the inspector's report from his insurance company stating proof/evidence that Koua was applying the brakes. And if the reconstruction team had done a correct job (or looked at the police report) everyone would have known that Koua was applying the brakes more than once during the 5.1 seconds.
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