Man Got Eight Years for Deaths From Accelerating Toyota


ABC News reports on the case of Koua Fong Lee, a Laotian immigrant serving eight years in a Minnesota prison for vehicular manslaughter. Lee was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry, when he accelerated to 70-90 mph, ran two stop signs, then struck another car, killing three of its occupants. Lee says the car accelerated on its own, and testified that he exclaimed to his family that the car's brakes weren't working in the run-up to the crash. The families of the victims are joining the effort to win Lee's release:

"I was angry for a moment, but when I came to my senses and thought about it, I didn't understand it," said Quincy Adams whose son and grandson were among those killed. "I can't believe that a guy with his pregnant wife, a kid in a car seat, his father-in-law and a brother-in-law in the car, would purposely be speeding up this ramp like that," said Bridgette Trice, whose seven-year old daughter later died from injuries suffered in the accident.

She said the news stories about Toyota's problems led her to reconsider what happened in the accident that killed her daughter.

"Maybe there is something to what Mr. Lee said was going on with him in his car, that he couldn't stop, that he tried his hardest, and the brakes, that his car wouldn't stop," said Ms. Trice.

"He's never wavered on his story that his brakes were bad," she added.

The 1996 Camry isn't part of Toyota's recent massive recall, but it was subject to a separate recall in the 1990s due to sudden acceleration related to the cruise control feature. That recall was not introduced at Lee's trial. The article notes that there have been 17 acceleration complaints about the model Lee was driving, though it doesn't say if that's an unusually high number in comparison to other makes and models.

If the car was defective, Lee was of course wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and deserves not only release, but a hefty payout from both Toyota and the state of Minnesota. He was convicted in 2006, and we're now learning that both Toyota and federal regulators knew about the acceleration problem as early as 2003.

But it's also worth asking why prosecutors decided to hit Lee with such a severe charge in the first place. He wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. He wasn't drag racing or showing signs of road rage. As noted, he was driving his family—including his pregnant wife and child—home from church when the accident occurred. The article doesn't indicate any theory from the prosecution as to why Lee would have suddenly, willfully driven so recklessly, but under Minnesota law they didn't have to. This is the problem with felony crimes that don't require the state to show intent. The Minnesota law requires only  a show of "reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others," which could likely have been satisfied merely by showing how fast Lee was driving.

Cultural bias may have also had something to do with it, too. Lee is Hmong. As a commenter at the ABC News site notes, Lee's trial came months after the highly-publicized trial of a Hmong man who massacred three Wisconsin hunters in 2004. Now one state over, you have a Hmong man who took out three people while driving well in excess of the speed limit. Lee also testified through a translator, and according to the ABC article his trial judge expressed doubt about Lee's remorse. Maybe Lee really was unremorseful, though it also seems possible that an emotion like remorse could be expressed differently in different cultures or be lost in translation.

Whatever their reasons, the prosecutors seemed set on making Lee pay a heavy price for the three deaths, and paid too little consideration to his actual level of criminal culpability.

NEXT: The Next New Drug of Choice? Ersatz Marijuana!

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  1. What I don’t understand: why don’t these people think to shift into neutral when this happens? This accident didn’t happen in the blink of an eye; he had time to go through two stop signs. Not that he deserved the sentence.

    1. It’s not always that easy to think clearly in a crisis. Something like this happened to me — first day driving a Thunderbird I’d bought used, the gas pedal jammed due to the floor mat pushing up. I was jamming on the brakes and quietly panicking as the car rushed toward an intersection, while my brother nattered on beside me, oblivious. I finally told him to STFU because I was trying to not die and it was hard to concentrate, whereupon he calmly reached over and shut off the ignition.

      If I’d been alone in the car, I might have had a horrendous accident or even died.

      That being said, I disagree about Balko saying Toyota should pay for this guy being incarcerated. People in prison have been known, or * rare * occasions (/sarcasm) to blame someone or something else for what they did.

      1. Your brother is too cool for school. Glad he was there to save ya 🙂

    2. I’d guess that a large majority of Americans don’t know and don’t care how a car works. Automobiles have become so worry-free and reliable that ordinary people have lost the mechanical skills that their parents and grandparents relied upon. I know grown men who don’t know how to put air in their tires. “Neutral”? What’s that? For most people it’s that mysterious N on the gear shift between Park and Drive.

      1. Shifting to N works in older automatic transmissions (including the 1996 Camry at issue here) but in modern cars made the last 3 years or so many of the computers won’t let you shift to N from D if you have the gas pedal mashed – they require you to ease off the gas first. Combine that with the pushbutton starts that require you to hold the button down 3 seconds to turn off (as opposed to simply turning the keys) and suddenly it’s not so simple to stop if you haven’t worked out a plan ahead of time.

        1. Yikes! Locked into Drive? By a computer?
          Did Stephen King design these cars?

          1. Got to protect the engine; need to keep warranty costs to a minimum.

      2. Oh yeah, Park and Drive. I always forget that most people drive cars with automatic transmissions (I have never had one) and think “why don’t they just step on the clutch pedal”. Seems like this would be a non-issue with a regular transmission as you always disengage the transmission when trying to stop anyway. Yet another reason why automatics suck.

    3. You don’t even have to shift into neutral. The brakes put out far more torque than the engine. Just jam on the brakes.

      1. Don’t know about this model, but on the newer models, the brakes don’t work either. Saw it on the news this morning.

    4. I don’t know about this guy but one of the victims who spoke to the government said she tried shifting into every gear. Even reverse. It did nothing. I think this is a major problem that shifting into neutral can’t fix. I don’t think she lied to the government about it.

  2. The article doesn’t indicate any theory from the prosecution as to why Lee would have suddenly, willfully driven so recklessly, but under Minnesota law they didn’t have to.

    State law may not require it, but as a juror I would have to insist on it before voting to convict. I don’t understand how juries can send a person to jail so seemingly cavalierly.

    1. My best guess has always been that sufficiently high levels of sympathy shut down all cognitive function.

      The prosecutor regales the jury with tales of pain, suffering, and lost possibilities on the part of the victims…and what follows has nothing whatsoever to do with thinking.

      1. Yeah, I’ve never been on a jury, but I would love to know what kind of discussions go on in a case like this. And I’ve been told – don’t know how true this is, mind you – that you generally won’t be accepted as a juror if you seem to be an intelligent and independent thinker. People like that can hold up a trial for weeks.

        1. Fucking time consuming justice. Why can’t everything just be handled with judicious use of rubber stamps?

    2. State law may not require it, but as a juror I would have to insist on it before voting to convict. I don’t understand how juries can send a person to jail so seemingly cavalierly.

      Don’t worry…they don’t

  3. Another problem is that the “stuck accelerator” issue has had complaints from nearly every manufacturer. The most common reason is that the driver hit the gas when they meant to brake.

    1. Another problem is that the “stuck accelerator” issue has had complaints from nearly every manufacturer. The most common reason is that the driver hit the gas when they meant to brake.

      But if you can find any instance of a Toyota executive even mentioning stuck accelerators then it must have been corporate complicity.

      I saw on the news this weekend that there have been as many complaints about “stuck accelerators” this year than in the previous 6 years. Are the trial vultures circling? Of course they are.

      If you get into a speed related accident, it simply must be Toyota’s fault.

      1. That slobbery sound you hear is the plaintiffs’ lawyers licking their chops.  This case may be a legitimate miscarriage of justice, but there will be hundreds more, whether legitimate or not — they’re just getting started.

    2. The “stuck accelerator” is a famous “cause” of accidents. In the vast (vast) majority of such claims, the accelerator problem cannot be reproduced. So I view any such claim with much skepticism.

      Could it have happened to this guy? Sure. Can anyone say that it did? No.

      Keep in mind that Toyota spent years trying to reproduce the problem and could not.

      To this day, I believe there really isn’t a design or construction problem to be fixed, but Toyota threw out a recall and a “fix” just to try to make the regulators/press go away.

      1. Yeah, more often than not the driver confuses the accelerator and brake without knowing it.

      2. Stuck accelerators actually are, and have always been fairly common, even before Toyota’s ill-advised decision to put the throttle (as well as some control of the transmission and the useless “starter button” system) completely under the control of a computer. It’s happened to me on at least 2 cars, though I had no problem regaining control. But the scenarios tend to be different. It’s hard to believe that one malfunction could cause both the car to accelerate and the brakes to fail when the car has just been started. If it’s underway, especially if it just passed or merged onto the highway, the claim is more plausible, since the brakes could have already been hot and heat up further fighting the momentum as well as the engine.

  4. Anybody want to bet me that this Toyota mess ends up just like the Audi debacle during the 80’s?

    Am I the only one who gets the “our consumers are idiots who keep stopping the gas instead of the brake, but nobody actually has the stones to say that” vibe?

    1. Nope, I’m with you. I work for one of the other automakers. Heard this, thought “Audi 5000”. It took Audi YEARS to recover. Audi’s issue was the placement of the pedals (aligned on the same plane, roughly the same size – now everyone puts them on different planes and sizes them differently). Is/was that a “defect”? Not in my world – “moron drivers and our lack of effective driver education” was the better explanation.

      With all that, drive by wire still makes me nervous, and absolutely could be involved in some of these cases (not all). I refuse to get it on any of my motorcycles…the cars I figure I can stop in other ways. The bikes – I want direct, mechanical control over the throttle body or carb.

      1. I believe the conclusion in the Audi SAIs (Sudden Acceleration Incidents) was that too many old people who should have been buying Towncars and Grand Marquis were buying Audis and confusing the pedal that makes the car go with the pedal that makes the car stop. “Pedal misapplication” was therefore not the fault of the wealthy age group that votes in high percentages in elections, but the fault Audi’s engineers, who placed the pedals too close together, as they do in most sport cars.

    2. I would agree except some Toyota cases are verified as not that, the guy that shifted in and out of neutral/drive to get the car to the dealership so they could see it running throttle wide open not due to floormat or user error or etc, being one key example.

  5. He ran two stop signs before hitting the other car? So he must have gone at least a few hundred feet…plenty of time to shift into neutral, pull the emergency brake, or even turn the wheel and run the car off the road so that he didn’t hurt anyone else. Stuck accelerator or no, this guy deserves at least of the blame for this incident.

    1. “Plenty of time” if you’re expecting the situation and armchair driving.

      But in a crisis like this you don’t think; you react the way you’ve trained. All of your Certified Driver Education Lessons will be screaming in your ear to:
      1. Keep both hands on the wheel.
      2. Stay on the road.
      3. Stomp on the brake pedal.

      Which is what Mr. Lee did.

      1. I once drove cross country in a VW that, halfway through the trip, decided to have some fun with the cruise control. Driving in the middle of Nowhere, NM, the car suddenly began accelerating out of control. But not only did I not panic, I simply shifted from neutral to drive every so often to stay around 70 until I found a spot to pull over. It really isn’t that difficult, and if you can’t respond well to the problems that life throws at you then be prepared to accept the consequences of your lack of action (like being sent to PMITA Prison for ending three innocent lives).

        1. That is just heartless. We need to remember that we are all different and react accordingly. if not we all would be clones. What if this was a sixteen year old with a few weeks of driving alone under his belt would you be so harsh then

        2. Wow, captaindumbass, can I join your fan club?

          You’re probably a professional race car driver or a very successful individual living the life of a rockstar. After all you seem like a person that can handle all “the problems life throws at you” like the terrifying experience you had in “the middle of nowhere.” Were you by yourself? Either way, it probably made it 10 times as nerve racking than having so many loved ones in the car with you. You should be giving seminars on how to keep your cool because it “really isn’t that difficult” so people like Peyton Manning, Rudy Giuliani, bombs squads etc. can perform better in clutch situations. She it, the president should have you on speed dial for times of crisis.

          However awesome you think you are, if you ever slipped up and wasn’t able to make the smartest choice or made the wrong split-second decision like the gold medal winning Olympian speed skater that threw away another gold by choosing the wrong lane, who you are clearly better than, I hope Slut Bunwalla below, who might be as awesome as you, gets to decide your fate since you will definitely be seen as a “dribbling moron.”

          I can’t believe that guy got 8 years in prison for something that sounds like an accident, and I can’t believe some of the pathetic losers here that are saying how easy it is to avoid an accident like that.

          Captaindumbass, stop wasting your life being douche.

        3. alot of comments are saying why Lee didnt put his car into neutral or why he didnt swerve his car left or right. I hope you smarty pants know that once youre in a situation like that, it’s not as easy as it seems. you guys can go ahead and talk that talk but you will not be able to walk the walk at that moment. Im sure if any of you were in Lee’s situation you guys would have done the same thing, freeze, freak out, and keep stepping on that brake hoping it would stop. even if lee wasnt in his conscious mind to turn off his ignition or do a neutral, he tried all he could at THAT MOMENT to stop. he is not at all guilty of something he didnt intentionally do. if it was your son, your father or your grandfather, im sure you’d think his trai wasnt fair. Lee received 8 yrs in prison, for what. for being ASIAN!! period. rapists, murders,repeat dui killers dont get 8 yrs…this is full of bull crap. the defesne team is just racist.

    2. Blame for the accident?


      8 years in jail?


      If the accelerator stuck, or if the cruise control computer took over, or if the floor mat grabbed the gas pedal, or any of the other “ifs” associated with Toyota and sudden acceleration, the criminal culpability for this driver should be 0.

      1. 8 years, no, but culpability is not 0. If the other car had been twenty feet in front of him and he hit it, yeah, okay. But he ran two stop signs first. That’s plenty of time to see that pressing the brake isn’t working unless you’re a dribbling moron.

        Does he deserve prison time? Probably not. But I don’t think he’s completely blameless in this.

  6. I don’t really get what purpose is served in putting someone in jail for 8 years for an accident. But then again, I don’t really think prosecutors are human, and I think they just don’t care as long as it advances their career.

    1. Dude, don’t make Mary Beth Buchanan melt your hot heart with a cool island song.

    2. The question is whether the event was truly an “accident” or whether a person was at fault for causing it. There are very, very few true “accidents.” The vast majority of automobile collisions are caused by driver error or just plain negligence. If a person is at fault and their actions caused the deaths of others, it can be the crime of vehicular homicide.

      The question in this case is whether the guy actually was negligent or otherwise to blame for causing the other people’s deaths.

  7. Ever the skeptic, I always doubt claims that the car, not the driver, caused an accident.

    The above does not mean I conclude the scenario Mr Leee claims is impossible, just that it is highly unlikely.

    1. But is it enough to create reasonable doubt? I think so.

  8. Yeah… I mean, don’t get me wrong, “Sudden Acceleration Syndrome” aside, when you’re in the school zone and your car mysteriously accelerates to 30, 40, then 50… and on up, there is a procedure– even with failing brakes to counteract this syndrome. Shift the fucking car into neutral and cut the engine and pull the e-brake.

    I agree that 8 years is hefty, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt that there were details at trial that made this a unique case.

    I’m fearing we’re going to end up with another Audi situation on our hands again. 100’s of geezers across the nation “mysteriously accelerating” while plowing through 15 isles of the Fred Meyer.

    1. Every farmer’s market in the United States of America should prepare itself for an onslaught.

      1. Coming soon to your local market: the exact same security as the US Embassy in Iraq.

      2. It is sometimes hard, in times like these, to understand God’s way. Why would he allow nine innocent people to be run down in the prime of their lives by a senior citizen who, perhaps, shouldn’t be driving? It is then that we must understand, God’s sense of humor is very different from our own. He does not laugh at the simple “man walks into a bar” joke. No, God needs complex irony and subtle farcical twists that seem macabre to you and me. All that we can hope for is that God got his good laugh and a tragedy such as this will never happen again. [screeching tires are heard]

        1. Lay off God. He just wanted some folks who could enjoy Matlock re-runs with Him.

        2. Why would he allow nine innocent people to be run down in the prime of their lives by a senior citizen who, perhaps, shouldn’t be driving?

          He felt like it.

          1. Why would he allow nine innocent people to be run down in the prime of their lives by a senior citizen who, perhaps, shouldn’t be driving?

            I don’t mean to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor. And when I die I expect to find him laughing.

    2. That’s pretty fucking generous of you.

  9. OT: Are any Reasonoids planning to be at the Federalist Society Symposium on originalism this Fri-Sat at UPenn?

  10. When a seemingly normal person with his entire family in the car, coming home from church mows down a vehicle killing three of its passengers AFTER running two stop signs at high speed, Occam’s Razor suggests that seemingly normal person’s excuse is the most likely reason for the accident.

    Did the defense attorney ever hear of reasonable doubt? And, isn’t it his job to make the liberal-white-guilt jurors sympathize with the minority immigrant?

    1. White liberals don’t give a fuck about Asian guys. If it was a poor oppressed black man with a criminal record a mile long, they would be tripping all over themselves defending the guy and would probably conclude it was the fault of white racism.

      1. Yeah, that happens a lot. No black people in jail for questionable reasons.

        1. That’s exactly what I said. You are a fucking genious.

          1. Actually, I’m the idiot and I apologize for the “fucking genious” comment. I had already stipulated the fictitious black man has a record a mile long, and you come along to his defense. What more could I ask – you proved my point!

            1. It’s not improbable to think someone might have a mile long record of petty crimes and not be a murderous sociopath.

  11. Some of these stories refer to some bizarre, unexplained interaction between the ABS and the “stuck” throttle, which disables the brakes. I have never owned a car with ABS; the ones I have driven annoyed the shit out of me. My understanding of how most ABS systems work is that they cannot *completely* disable the line pressure. If you push the pedal hard enough, you have brakes.

    If Toyota’s ABS has some sort of bypass function which returns the fluid to the reservoir (and I am not going to run out and buy a Toyota factory service manual to see if that’s true), well….

    That’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

    1. I think as the number of ‘drive-by-wire’ cars proliferate… we may be in for some genuinely weird shit… I will admit.

      1. Just wait until they’re all computerized and connected to the internet, and then some hacker/spammer can take them over all the cars in an area and force them to drive to the truck he’s got in some parking lot selling fake Viagr@ and Cial!s.

    2. Are you willing to do an experiment for the group? Get on the highway tonight away from other cars. Accelerate to 65 mph, then floor the accelerator. After what you think is a reasonable amount of time for panic delay, attempt to stop the vehicle with the accelerator stilled mashed to the floor. Let us know what happens. Can you brakes overcome full throttle when applied after you are already at highway speeds, or will they quickly overheat and fail?

      1. Already done. The brakes won even on a Roush Stage 3 Mustang starting at 100 mph.

        1. “So even in the most extreme case, it should be possible to get a car’s speed down to a point where a resulting accident should be a low-speed and relatively minor event.”


          “But the No. 1 automaker could learn a few lessons from the competition here?namely a throttle cutoff and a more responsive push-button ignition.”

          Even though the stang has power, it probably also has some kick-ass brakes. The Camery driver should put the car in neutral or turn the key back to shut of the ignition but not lock the collumn. I don’t contest that. But I still contend, that if the car has typical brakes, that 95% of people would consider to be OK, and if the car fails to stop in a certain amount of time, those pads are going to be red hot and it is quite possible for them to fail. Apparenty, enough people were convinced this (evil foreign) guy said “wow, the car won’t slow down. Well fuck it, I’m gonna see how fast this bitch gets going on this off ramp”? Really, what idiot would think that? Were a bunch of lone wacko’s relatives on the jury?

          1. They got the Camry down to 10 mph from 120 mph before the brakes failed. They got it to stop from 100 mph. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Maybe most people would take their foot off the brake, gaining speed again, before reapplying the brakes? Even then it seems they wouldn’t fail until the car is close to stopping based on these tests.

            1. To summarize my opinion of this case and every other Toyota crash involving a stuck accelerator: The brakes didn’t fail; the guy panicked.

            2. “the Camry”

              What Camry? That is what I am saying. I test showing “a” Camry stopped is conclusive for the sample size of one. Additionally, what were the conditions of the brake pads, what kind of pads were they, and what was the condition of the rotors? The test showed “a” Camry could stop under the tested conditions, but does not show most or all will be able to stop under those same conditions.

            3. Because all brake pads in all cars are always in near factory condition!

      2. Did it and it worked. Hint: I put it in neutral.

  12. The steering column lock discourages most people from “just” grabbing the key and shutting the thing down.

    1. The steering column lock is a pretty annoying invention.

      1. Why do you love car theives hate America?

  13. I’m sure many people out there would go into complete panic mode if their car started accelerating without their permission. Just try to imagine this incident with a woman driving and some of you guys might have an easier time visualizing it.

    1. Well, he is Asian…

    2. See i think you’re hitting on something here.

      There’s “OMG, traffic in front of me all just slammed its breaks” panic, or “dear jumped in front of the car” panic, or “sudden tire deflation” panic.

      Those are all things a driver might be able to reasonably expect and then deal with when they occur.

      When your car starts accelerating out of your control, i imagine the panic that instills is a bit different, more confused. “WTF, i’m hitting the breaks?!” and that’s when your mind totally fails as it grasps for possibilities.

      So, I’m not going to hold someone to the same reaction standard when dealing with non-standard road hazards.

      That said, “Got the pedals mixed up” seems way too likely for “stuck accelerator” cases that can’t be reproduced.

      1. yup, “dear jumped in front the car”. Damn spouses/SOs trying to crash people.

    3. I’m an Asian woman who drives a six-speed Corvette, asshole.

      1. I want to marry you.

    4. That’s the problem. People enter ‘dumbass’ mode. Putting the car into neutral and pressing the brake is the standard operating procedure. A group of automotive experts indicated that some people get a psychological block when their accelerator gets stuck: they believe with the stuck accelerator, nothing else in the car works either. they just lift their foot off the accelerator and stare out the windshield hoping that God is their co-pilot.

  14. drive by wire still makes me nervous

    No kidding.

    1. psst, you’ve been flying by wire for years. Just sayin’.

      1. Which basically means…you’re sitting in a chair, at 35,000 feet in the air, in a fly-by-wire configuration. Pilot can’t exactly just put it into neutral, cut the ignition or pull the e-brake if something goes wrong.

        1. Totally different world there. The 777 has three systems for this. They take an odd man out vote when there is conflicting information. (That’s what an engineer told me when I used to work on avionics crap)

          1. My recollection is the B777 has a quadrupple redundant primary flight control computer. A triple redundant flight control computer is a classic configuration for autoland, non-fly-by-wire, but not the only configuration.

  15. This is why we need robot-controlled cars. So we can blame the robot for anything bad that happens and sue the manufacturer, bypassing any question of blaming the human passengers or owner.

    1. I’d settle for fast travel, a la Fallout 3. The initial walk to your destination would suck, but instant teleportation there from that point on.

      1. What’s the point of that? With robot drivers, I can become wealthy suing companies for faulty programming. With fast travel, I’m not retiring at 45.

        1. Have we learned nothing from Skynet? *sigh*

      2. .tele commands in WoW are even better.

  16. This falls squarely in the… What a terrible thing! Somebody needs to pay! mentality… The prosecutor probably took one look at the Toyota legal team and then went for the lowest hanging fruit

    1. I would argue that in this case, Toyota would be the lowest hanging fruit. For instance, it has clearly occurred even to the victims that there is no percentage in it to have Lee in jail for eight years. But if Toyota’s at fault, on the other hand…

      1. No, Toyota wouldn’t be the lowest hanging fruit because this took place in 2006 when Toyota had still not come clean. If this case happened to day, we know exactly what would happen, but in 2006 this man was some liar who couldn’t even speak English very good. Jail him!

        1. Nope, looks like Toyota is in fact the lowest hanging fruit– certainly for the victims.

  17. I wanna see the path this guy took. Is there a map showing his destructive route? If he had plenty of ditching options (although I will agree that choices become limited when you think about the safety of your own passengers) and still t-boned the neighbor who calls him “slope” every morning under his breath then maybe I’ll think he’s guilty. Otherwise, the punishment does not fit the “crime” of Accident.

  18. HMM Toyota = unlimited legal resources
    Mr Lee = Public Defender + no consequences for malicious prosecution
    = Not a hard decision

  19. this case is more evidence that prosecutors are a wretched breed left over from a time when dog people ruled the Earth.

    1. Possibly the only time I ever agreed with Lamar.

    2. Don’t insult the dog people.

  20. So what’s wrong here? there was an unanswered issue of fact as to whether Lee drove too fast because he was stupid or whether his car malfunctioned. The case was presented to a jury. The jury found him to be boneheaded.

    Such a finding is not unprecedented. Do you remember when Audi drivers were blaming the deaths of their toddlers/garage walls on “Sudden Acceleration Incidents?” After NHTSA did a comprehensive study, it found that all Sudden Acceleration was due to “pedal misapplication?”

    I’m sure Mr. Lee’s defense presented the lack of motive and preggo wife evidence to the jury. The jury found dumb driving to be a better explanation of the facts.

    BTW, I’m not sure I want to live in a world where reckless endangerment of another person is not criminally punishable. Reckless endangerment is what people who fire their guns into the air at random on New Years Eve are charged with, as well as reckless driving, etc. If you take a dangeorus implement, act recklessly, and injure others, you deserve some prison time.

    1. The jury found dumb driving to be a better explanation of the facts

      Based on bad facts. Toyota had been hiding their acceleration problems. It was all a bunch of bad drivers, dontcha know.

      1. “Newsflash: Toyota Public Relations blames accidents on Asian drivers. In other news, Toyota’s (Mostly/All?) Asian Board of Directors fires entire public relations department.”

  21. of course the prosecutor is now thinking that if he’d had the balls to take them on in ’03 he’d be a fucking hero today…

    1. He’s really punchin himself for that one. To think of the prospects for public office which he missed by jumping the gun on that case. Poor guy.

  22. This is the problem with felony crimes that don’t require the state to show intent.

    Wait. What? Are we talking only about felony automotive crimes?

  23. “family’s” should be “families”

  24. Re: two stop signs

    The article doesn’t say that Lee ran any stop signs. The quote about running two stop signs is from someone else’s complaint about sudden acceleration of a 1996 Camry. It’s an entirely different crash.

  25. This quote from the article indicates that he was driving up a ramp: “I can’t believe that a guy with his pregnant wife, a kid in a car seat, his father-in-law and a brother-in-law in the car, would purposely be speeding up this ramp like that.”

    That lends some support to the idea that he might not have had any opportunity to steer away from a collision.

  26. “This is the problem with felony crimes that don’t require the state to show intent. The Minnesota law requires only a show of ‘reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others,’ which could likely have been satisfied merely by showing how fast Lee was driving.”

    Learn what “mens rea” is. Seriously, this is wildly uninformed.

  27. This whole debacle reminds me of apocrypha from the ’80s where the head of DEC is asked a softball question about why DEC’s OS has so many fewer bugs than IBM’s. Instead of taking the butter for his bread, he says that he wishes they had as many bugs as IBM, since number of bugs is a better measure of ubiquity than quality.

    Aside from the Government Motors angle, Toyota definitely seems to be suffering from their own success in that by having more cars on the road (and that last longer), any statistically insignificant mal-event will happen enough times to be a news story. In other words, Renault may have the same problem at the same frequency per vehicle-mile, but who’d notice?

    1. If a Renault could accelerate at all, it would be a product defect.

  28. In reponse to the question above ” why don’t people think to switch in neutral” The Man in that car that was killed was my Brother in Law, Nephew and then a year later our niece. That day we lost more than we can explain, only to relive this whole ordeal 3 years later. I said that to say… We asked ourselves similar questions, however who can really know what they’ll do or think unless they’re in that situation?

  29. I live a few blocks from where this accident happened, coming off highway 94 eastbound on the Snelling Avenue exit. It’s an exceedingly busy intersection. Accidents are fairly common there, but the speed at which he was going is hard to imagine. The aftermath of the crash–the cars had been pushed through the busy intersection on Snelling and through a chain-link fence around a construction site–was visible for a long time afterward.

    I’d expected to hear that it was someone under the influence or suicidal or experiencing a heart attack, rather than someone coming home from church with his family. The explanation of a stuck accelerator at the time made sense for the shocking speed but seemed so far-fetched. It seems less so now.

  30. The guy probably couldn’t afford a decent lawyer. That’s why he’s in jail, not the crime (or accident).

  31. A grey-beard I worked with in the 90’s refused to drive or ride in any car with ABS. He said the statistics indicated that ABS results in fewer multi-car accidents (you’re less likely to hit someone in slippery conditions) and more single-care accidents (indicating ABS causes loss of control due to system failure). It pretty obvious what he would think of electronic throttles.

  32. And I’ve been told – don’t know how true this is, mind you – that you generally won’t be accepted as a juror if you seem to be an intelligent and independent thinker.

    I was working in an office in San Francisco, and person after person there got summoned to jury duty, and were kicked off the jury panel for various reasons. The only person working there who got on a jury was literally retarded, must have had an IQ hovering around 70 or so.

    1. I’ve voted in every election since 1984- yet never even been caled for jury duty.

      I don’t really want to serve, I just want to laugh at the prosecutor when I get booted for my politics.

  33. In stories like this, you should consider making the extra effort to name the trial judge and the prosecutors. I think they’ve earned it.

  34. People are so full of internet mis-information.

    ANY car and I do MEAN EVERY car out there can shift to neutral at ANY time. You move the shift lever to N and the transmission disengages, no if and or buts. So don’t spread the internet rumors of a car locking out neutral at full throttle, it’s just not the facts.

    THis guys car is a 1996 camry, it uses a throttle cable. No way that car could go full throttle with out him stepping on the pedal. Worst case, the throttle stuck, but it would have stuck only as far as he stepped on the pedal. Assuming he was cruising at 60mph, he was at maybe 30% throttle. He lets go of the gas to slow down, the car still keeps on going. If he steps on the brakes, the car will easily stop at 30% throttle.

    Cruise control could be a problem, but unless he had the cruise control system on and was using it, there is no way it would have given full throttle either. Also on the cruise control system, it disengages as soon as you step on the brakes.

    I believe the throttle was stuck, the guy lets go of the gas, the car is still going 60mph. He panics and slams on the brakes, but instead hit the gas at full throttle. Accident happens. He maintains his belief that he stepped on the brakes but he was really on the gas.

    1. That’s very plausible. The atrocity here is the 8 year sentence based on the man not showing what we see as “remorse”. The guy probably spent six months in jail for the duration of the trial and is facing incarceration in an English-speaking penal system that isn’t known to be a place of enlightenment. He knows he didn’t do anything to intentionally hurt anyone, yet he is being cast as the devil man from south east Asia. Exactly what kind of expression was he supposed to have painted on his face so he could, at the whim of the judge/jury, receive a sentence of time served, supervision, or something looking more like sanity

      1. I think you might need to review the case details, Bigbigslacker. You seem utterly convinced that despite his valiant defense, the jurors ignored the facts. it looks like his Defense attorney was, in the least, a major factor in his conviction:

        Defense attorney Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks acknowledged Lee likely hit the gas instead of the brakes on the exit ramp from eastbound Interstate Hwy. 94. But he said the accident was just an accident.

        Clearly he’s responsible,” Eichhorn-Hicks said.

        The only difference was the defense attorney said it was still an accident– something I certainly completely agree with. The question becomes: how much do we pin on negligence? I don’t have those answers.

        There’s also this:

        After the accident, mechanics found the brakes worked fine, according to testimony. Witnesses and accident reconstruction experts estimated Lee was going 72 to 91 mph when he hit the other cars.

        I’m really getting the “Audi” feeling on this one.…..45131.html

  35. The article doesn’t indicate any theory from the prosecution as to why Lee would have suddenly, willfully driven so recklessly, but under Minnesota law they didn’t have to. This is the problem with felony crimes that don’t require the state to show intent. The Minnesota law requires only a show of “reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others,” which could likely have been satisfied merely by showing how fast Lee was driving.

    By that standard, the Minneapolis police officers who raided the home of Vang Khangcould have been prosecuted.

    Oh wait..

    Instead, they were awarded medals for bravery for nearly killing an innocent man, his wife, and six kids.

  36. One reason the man was convicted is evident here; people believe what they think not what they know or has been proven true. It doesn’t matter if the driver did not act as you would have in a criminal case, it matters if the actions are criminal beyond a reasonable doubt. Even without the Toyota fiasco there was reasonable doubt.

    The following links shows a video with David Gilbert, a professor at Southern Illinois University replicating the Toyota acceleration and braking problems. If his experiment was performed properly, Toyota cars have a problem.…ory?id=9909319…me-in-runaway/

    1. Even without the Toyota fiasco there was reasonable doubt.

      But he was convicted anyway. How is this possible if there was reasonable doubt?


        Critical thinking is paramount especially when deciding the fate of someone’s life and freedom.


        Critical thinking is paramount especially when deciding the fate of someone’s life and freedom.

  37. whell as some of the idiots out there that dont know how to change a flat or even put air in the tires the dl exam on every state should include a mechanial part at least basic example neighbors lexus batt when dead he was tring to open it with the remote for almost 1hr till i was living for work and told him about the key on the inside of the remote wonder how long till he found the jump start points big plus for him he said he had a road side card in the glove box

    1. Agreed. I also think people should learn basic spelling and grammar skills before calling other people “idiots” on a public message board.

  38. I feel nothing but empathy for each family in this case. May God bless them both.

    To those people saying that the driver had enough time to switch into neutral, I say, RIDICULOUS! When you are going 70-90mph, two blocks is only a couple of seconds.

    As a young prosecutor in a neighboring state, I can say this with 100% certainty: I would NEVER have charged this man with a felony. My policy is, if there is no criminal intent, then there is no felony. Clearly in this case, no matter which story you believe, there was no criminal intent. Notwithstanding the recent Toyota revelations, the judge who sentenced this man should be ashamed. As a prosecutor, I truly believe that crimes should be penalized based on the intent of the perpetrator. If I were the ADA in this case, I wouldn’t sleep until Koua Fong Lee got a new trial.

    To Koua Fong Lee, his family, and the victims’ family: I am sorry for you all. I just hope the DA and judge come to their senses.

    My main point is this: Even if this was driver error, Koua Fong Lee does not deserve a prison sentence!

    Assume that Koua Fong Lee did err, but instead of the victims’ car he hit a BMW SUV and no one was hurt. Does Koua Fong Lee deserve the same sentence? …No? But his intent and, most importantly, his culpability are exactly the same!

    The bottom line is that punishment should depend on the defendant’s culpability. Here, it was little to none.

    Set the man free – and pay him and the victims’ family. This is a no-brainer.

  39. The gears will not shift and the ignition will not turn off with the car moving.


    Older car, not affected by recall. A Ford is only a little less likely to have stuck throttle than a Toyota (28% vs 40% of complaints – and nobody’s actively advertising ‘Defective Fords’ right now), yet this guy gets a bunch of clueless media-hyped morons on his side. If he’d been driving a Ford, the ‘accelerator’ defense would be just about as likely, but nobody would believe him.

    Just think if George Russell Weller had been in a Toyota when he killed ten people and injured dozens at a Farmer’s Market in California. These same people would believe he was ‘innocent’. Too bad he was in a Buick.

  41. For all those who think that he had “plenty of time” because he ran two stop signs, please try doing the math. 90 mph is 132 feet per second. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple stop signs at the end of an exit ramp seperated by less than 100 feet. Even assuming this entire incident occurred in the span of just 10 seconds – which is hardly enough time to perform trial and error experiments, the car would have traveled 1320 feet. That’s 5 average city blocks in 10 seconds.
    So let’s be honest….how many of us really could have prevented that crash IF the car really was accelerating out of control with no response from the brakes?

  42. This guy didn’t leave church and decide to run down someone. There are true fellons that get off with less than 8 years. He should be released and allowed to take care of his family!!

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