A Minnesota judge has freed Loua Fong Lee, a Southeast Asian immigrant and father of four who was convicted in 2007 of criminal vehicular homicide after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control and crashed into another vehicle, killing three people.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Joanne Smith ordered Lee free from prison on Thursday pending a new trial. Ramsey County Prosecutor Susan Gaertner, however, immediately announced she would drop the charges against Lee.
“Mr. Lee will be a free man,” Gaertner said in a written statement.
Lee, 32, has steadfastly maintained his innocence all along, saying that his Camry accelerated suddenly and unintentionally and all attempts to stop the vehicle failed. Lee was traveling along Interstate 94 in St. Paul on his way home from church in June 2006 when the sudden acceleration occurred. 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.
After being released, Lee asked the family of the victims to forgive him and pleaded with them to believe that he did nothing wrong. But the family had already become convinced that Lee’s Camry was defective and joined in the efforts to free him. The families of Javis Adams and his niece have filed lawsuits against Toyota seeking compensation for their losses.
“It’s a bittersweet victory,” Bridgette Trice, whose daughter died of injuries suffered in the crash, told KARE-TV. “I’m happy for the Lee family, that they’re getting their justice. We want answers, and they’re coming slowly but they’re coming surely.”
Mae Adams, whose nephews died in the accident, told KARE, “Our day is yet to come. … We couldn’t let this man sit in jail, no matter how much we wanted to know what happened.”
Once news broke about Toyota’s widespread sudden acceleration problems, an inspector examined Lee’s car again and concluded that Lee was indeed 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.