A new hearing is scheduled for August 2 to determine whether Koua Fong Lee will receive a new trial. Lee, a 32-year-old Hmong immigrant and Minnesota resident, was thrown in prison after his 1996 Toyota Camry crashed in 2006 killing three people.
On June 10, 2006, Lee was traveling along Interstate 94 in St. Paul on his way home from church. In the car with him were his expectant wife, 4-year-old daughter, brother and father. Just before exiting, Lee’s Camry accelerated drastically to speeds of 70-90 miles per hour, ultimately colliding with other cars.
The crash killed Javis Trice Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son Javis Adams, Jr. Adams’ 6-year-old niece was critically injured and paralyzed from the neck down but died after Lee’s conviction, about a year after the accident. Two others were severely injured.
Lee insisted he did everything possible to stop his Camry before it crashed, but the jury didn’t believe him. He was found guilty on two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and three counts of criminal vehicular operation and was sentenced to eight years in a Minnesota state prison.
In her order for a hearing, Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith cited a report by a defense expert who re-inspected Lee’s totaled car for evidence that it may have accelerated suddenly and unintentionally. When Lee was placed on trial for the accident, Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem wasn’t widely known. It wasn’t until after Toyota’s record recall of more than 8 million vehicles for acceleration-related defects that Lee’s case and many others like it were cast in a new light.
After Toyota’s sudden acceleration defects became known, the inspector who examined Lee’s car concluded that Lee was braking at the time of the crash, just as he had claimed in his trial. The inspector also found sticking problems in the car’s accelerator system.
Judge Smith wrote that it “is the Court’s intent to hear and decide this matter as expeditiously as possible.”
Lee’s attorney said that the judge’s order was good news for his client, but that it was just the first step. He said that he still needs to persuade the court that Lee deserves a new trial, but he remains hopeful that testimony and affidavits from 26 Toyota drivers who have experienced sudden unintended acceleration in their Toyota vehicles will help pave a path out of prison for Lee.