LINO LAKES, Minn. (AP) – Ever since his 1996 Toyota Camry shot up an interstate ramp, plowing into the back of an Oldsmobile in a horrific crash that killed three people, a jury didn’t believe him, and a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.
But now, new revelations of safety problems with Toyota’s have Lee pressing to get his case reopened and his freedom restored. Relatives of the victims — who condemned Lee at his sentencing three years ago — now believe he is innocent and are planning to sue Toyota. The prosecutor who sent Lee to prison said he thinks the case merits another look.
“I know 100 percent in my heart that I took my foot off the gas and that I was stepping on the brakes as hard as possible,” Lee said in an interview Wednesday at the state prison in Lino Lakes. “When the brakes were looked at and we were told that nothing was wrong with the brakes, I was shocked.”
Lee’s accident is among a growing number of cases, some long resolved, that are getting new attention since Toyota admitted its problems with sudden acceleration were more extensive than originally believed. Numerous lawsuits involving Toyota accidents have been filed over the recent revelations, and attorneys expect the numbers will climb.
In testimony before Congress, company executive renewed their apologies for underestimating the safety problems but also acknowledged that they still may not have identified all the causes for the sudden acceleration.
The uncertainty could wind up helping Lee and others. Attorneys for both the 32-year-old St. Paul man as well as the victims’ families say they’re encouraged by the evidence that the problems went beyond models that originally were recalled. If Lee’s car was defective, “We don’t want an innocent man sitting in prison,” said Phil Carruthers, who prosecuted the case for Ramsey County. A Toyota spokesman declined to comment on Lee’s case.