Lawyer: Stuck Throttle Found in Car of Imprisoned Toyota Driver

Says Camry of man convicted of vehicular homicide may have cruise control flaw.

April 20, 2010, 5:38 PM

Apr. 21, 2010 — -- The lawyer for a Toyota owner serving an eight-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide says a new inspection of his car found a possible fault in the car's cruise control that may have jammed the throttle into an open position.

"There is enough evidence now to support a new trial," said Robert Hilliard, the lawyer for Koua Fong Lee, 32, of St. Paul, Minnesota, who was convicted following a 2006 accident that killed three people when his car slammed into a vehicle at a stop sign.

"If the cruise control was working properly, it would allow the brakes to take over and the car to stop," said Hilliard.

At the trial, Lee insisted his Toyota, a 1996 Camry, suddenly sped out of control and that he was pumping the brakes up until the point of impact.

"We see a mechanical device that appears to stick open and therefore keeps the throttle from closing," attorney Bob Hilliard told following an inspection of the car yesterday by experts hired for him.

Experts for the Minnesota county prosecutor who brought the case were also present for the inspection Tuesday but have not yet indicated whether they agree with the findings of Lee's experts.

A spokesperson for the Ramsey County Attorney's office said prosecutors will not comment until they receive a report from their expert, which could take weeks. The office will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss their handling of the case. The inspection continued Wednesday.

Hilliard says his experts also found evidence from the brake light filaments that a "braking event" was occurring at the time of the collision. "It means that Mr. Lee had his foot on the brake as he testified," said Hilliard.

Hilliard says an inspection by insurance company engineers in 2006 reported similar evidence that "the vehicle was engaged in a braking maneuver at the time of the crash."

The prosecution maintained Lee had mistakenly pressed the accelerator pedal instead of the brake.

Lee was returning home from church with his pregnant wife, children and in-laws on the day of the accident. His relatives testified he repeatedly yelled "brakes not working" as the car sped toward the intersection.

The 1996 Camry was the subject of a recall because of "unintended acceleration" caused by a flaw in the cruise control ten years prior to the accident. The fact of the recall was not presented at the trial.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received more than 17 complaints from owners of other 1996 Camry's alleging defects that led to sudden acceleration and Lee's lawyer says he has 13 affidavits from other 1996 Camry owners describing sudden acceleration events that are similar to Lee's.

"They said they were braking as hard as they could while their 1996 Toyota Camry continued to accelerate," said Hilliard.

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