Kuoa Lee was sent to jail because his alleged defective Toyota Camry slammed into the back of a car carrying a family of four, killing three of them. CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford reports he was going 90 mph, and prosecutors called it a crime scene.
Javis Adams, 33, his son, Javis Adams Jr., 9, and his daughter, Devyn Adams, 6, were all killed by the wreck, and Javis' dad, Quincy Adams, was severely injured.
"I try not to think about, but you can't help it" Quincy said. "It's there all the time every day."
Lee was charged with vehicular homicide. The mother of the girl who died testified against him.
"Like I told him: You're still here," Bridgette Trice said. "Your family has you. I have a baby that I brought into this world and I had plans to watch her grow up to be a beautiful young lady and she had dreams of her own. I don't have that anymore."
Lee insisted he tried to stop.
"I tried everything I could to stop the car," Lee said in tears. "But, you know (I couldn't,) because the breaks (were) not working, and no one believed me. I feel like, 'Why?'"
He got eight years in jail. In August, Lee walked out of jail a free man. Prosecutors dropped the charges after reports surfaced of unintended acceleration in other Toyotas.
Now, Lee's exoneration is Toyota's problem. The two families have come together to sue Toyota.
"It's extraordinary in a way that now, this person that you blamed, you're on the same side of this lawsuit," Bridgette Trice said. "We want justice, for Lee, for our family and for Lee's family."
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Minnesota, claims that the Camry's design was defective and that Toyota knew the car could suddenly accelerate. However, instead of trying to fix the problem, the suit says, the company tried to cover it up.
Toyota says Lee's car, a 1996 Camry, was examined by three separate experts. They said they found no evidence it was defective.
"The 96 Camry has a 15-year history of safety," said Mike Michels, Toyota's Vice President for Communications. "It had a brake system that was state-of-the-art for the time it was built and it's never been subject to a recall for safety or acceleration."
If Toyota says it's not their fault, then Bridgette Trice wonders why Lee is free. Regardless, even a victory in court won't bring back the three lives lost or the three years lost by the Lees.
Toyota's response below:
"Toyota sympathizes with all of the families affected by the 2006 accident involving Koua Fong Lee. However, any allegation that a vehicle‐based
defect caused unintended acceleration of Mr. Lee's 1996 Camry or other
Toyota vehicles in this class is completely unfounded. No safety agency or
court has ever determined that such a defect exists.
Furthermore, CBS reported in its broadcast segment and states in the online
article accompanying that piece that "Prosecutors dropped the charges
(against Mr. Lee) after reports surfaced of unintended acceleration in
other Toyotas. Now, Lee's exoneration is Toyota's problem."
To be clear, Mr. Lee was released from prison after a judge ruled that he
had been denied a fair trial in 2007 on the basis of ineffective assistance
of counsel and, as a result, that he be given a new trial. The court did
not attempt to determine and did not determine that Mr. Lee's vehicle was
defective. Although prosecutors then declined to retry the original case
and to release Mr. Lee with time served, they noted at that time that while
they believed "that the (original) jury reached an appropriate conclusion,"
that belief "doesn't lead to the conclusion that a retry should be
had….those are two very different questions." (Pioneer Press, 8/7/10)
By contrast, CBS's statement mischaracterizes this process to suggest that
prosecutors proactively dropped charges against Mr. Lee because of
allegations of unintended acceleration in other Toyota vehicles, which is
simply not the case."