Koua Fong Lee, the Minnesota Toyota driver set free by a judge this summer after spending two years in prison for vehicular homicide, has asked to join a lawsuit against Toyota.
Lee was convicted after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control on a St. Paul interstate off ramp and slammed into another car, killing the driver and two passengers. A motion filed by his attorneys Tuesday would allow him to join the existing lawsuit against Toyota filed by a survivor and family members of the victims.
Lee, now 32, has always maintained that his car accelerated on its own and that he applied the brakes but could not stop the car.
"He is aggravated with Toyota," said Bob Hilliard, one of Lee's attorneys. He said his client recognizes it will be a big day for him to finally get a chance to have Toyota come into court and listen to why he believes Toyota is responsible. The hearing on the motion is set for November 8, 2010.
Toyota's press office declined to comment on Lee's lawsuit.
Lee served two years of an eight-year vehicular homicide sentence after his Camry crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing driver Javis Adams, his 10-year-old son and injuring Adams' seven-year-old niece Devyn Bolton, who later died of her injuries. Passenger Quincy Adams survived.
Lee granted an exclusive prison interview to ABC News in February, and at that time told Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross that he pressed the Camry's brakes repeatedly but the car would not stop.
Lee's attorneys maintained the accident was caused by unintended acceleration. They presented numerous other cases of owners of 1996 Camrys who alleged that they had also experienced throttle control problems, as well as the results of a reexamination of the crashed Camry by an expert witness.
The Ramsey County prosecutor's office had maintained there was no new evidence. In April, two experts hired by the prosecutor re-examined the car and reported "…there were no problems with the brakes or throttle system." They blamed the accident on driver error.
Following a four-day hearing in August, Judge Joanne Smith ruled there was enough evidence to grant Lee a new trial. She ordered him freed pending trial. However, less than an hour later prosecutors announced they would not try Lee again.
Lee Rejected Plea Deal
Right before the judge's ruling, Lee had rejected a plea deal from prosecutors that would have allowed him to go home a free man, but would still brand him a convicted felon.
According to ABC affiliate KSTP, prosecutors said Lee could return home to his family if he accepted their offer to plead guilty to the same felony and be released immediately. The terms of the plea would mean Lee would still be a convicted felon with 15 years of probation and his driving privileges would be suspended for 10 years.
Lee's defense attorneys told KSTP his reason for rejecting the deal was because he continues to maintain he was pressing the brake at the time of the accident and he is not a felon.
The family of the victims had also backed a new trial. Michael Padden, attorney for the victims' family, said his clients were "shocked" at the plea offer and "disappointed" with the prosecutors.
In an interview with ABC news – his first following his release from jail – Lee said he was anxious to see his four children, ranging in age from two-and-a-half to eight-years-old. "The first thing I'm going to do is talk to them, to get to know them, to play with them," Lee said. "I want them to know I am their daddy. I will teach them what the word daddy means."
Lee's attorney Bob Hilliard credited an ABC News report from Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross for garnering attention on the case.
"It was the result of the ABC report that brought the people to us that said they want to help us," Hilliard said. Lee's attorneys said dozens of witnesses came forward with similar stories of unintended acceleration problems with their 1996 Toyota Camry's, like what happened in Lee's case.