'Toyota Defense' Frees Man Jailed in Fatal Car Crash

Koua Fong Lee was released after almost two-and-a-half years in prison.

A Minnesota man convicted in a fatal car crash was freed from prison on August 6 after a judge ordered a new trial to examine evidence about Toyota's "sticky" accelerator pedals, local media reported.

In a statement issued after the ruling, a Minnesota county attorney said authorities would not pursue a new trial against Koua Fong Lee, who was released after almost two-and-a-half years in prison.

The decision comes after Toyota was forced to recall millions of vehicles worldwide to fix accelerator pedals that in some models would get stuck, sending the vehicle hurtling out of control.

Lee was serving an eight-year term on charges of criminal vehicular homicide stemming from a 2006 car crash that killed three people, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported. But Lee had protested that he was trying to brake his 1996 Toyota Camry when it crashed into the back of an Olds Ciera.

District Judge Joanne Smith said she had ordered the new hearing on the basis of testimony provided by witnesses who said their own Toyota Camrys had spiraled out of control. "They were credible," the newspaper quoted her as saying.

After the ruling, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said her office would dismiss the charges against Lee. "I respect the judge, and I respect her ruling, and I believe it is time to bring this very tragic situation to a close," she said.

The case is the first criminal U.S. conviction to be successfully challenged on the basis of problems with Toyota vehicles, and could serve as precedent in similar cases.

Toyota was forced to pull some 10 million vehicles worldwide and faces a slew of lawsuits over "unintended acceleration" issues blamed for more than 80 deaths in the United States.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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