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Did Toyota Sudden Acceleration Send Man to Prison?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 04, 2010 10:15 AM

A 29 year old refugee from Laos in jail on a vehicular homicide conviction may actually have been a victim of sudden acceleration and problems with his '96 Toyota Camry brakes. 

Koua Fong Lee is serving 8 years in prison for a fatal accident he claims was never his fault. In 2006, his 96' Toyota Camry crashed in Minnesota, killing three people. Lee, who didn't speak much English, always maintained that his brakes were not working. His car was moving at an estimated speed of 70 to 90 miles per hour at the time of the fatal accident. He was driving his family, including pregnant wife and child, home from church on a Sunday morning.

But now, there may be some relief in sight for Lee. Toyota's recent troubles might hold the key to his freedom. According to ABC News, Lee's lawyers have discovered that some 1996 Camrys had received complaints due to "unintended acceleration" (or "sudden acceleration") problems. 

Although these cars were not a part of the recent safety recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received more than 17 complaints of sudden acceleration from owners of 1996 Camrys.

Some Camry owners complained of acceleration up to speeds of 60 to 80 miles per hour, claiming that they had to crash into a tree to stop the car. 

Lee never faltered on his assertion that the accident was caused by bad Camry brakes. The problem for Lee was that he spoke through a translator. The judge, at his sentencing, told Lee that Lee showed no remorse for his actions. 

Could his conviction and sentence have been a cultural misunderstanding coupled with a lack of factual understanding by the jury? Was Lee convicted because the jury couldn't understand why the car might have accelerated randomly? Was the jury simply not familiar with Lee's cultural mannerisms, thinking rather that he had no remorse? 

Answers will be forthcoming in the next while. But the biggest question remains: If Toyota knew of the defects and hid the evidence, which some are alleging they did, then did Toyota sit there and watch as an innocent man went to jail?

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