The “Toyota Defense” to manslaughter

This was inevitable.

CNN reports that one Koua Fong Lee, serving an eight-year prison term for killing three people when his 1996 Toyota smashed into their vehicle, has now decided the car is to blame – and CNN’s reporter seems pretty well convinced of it.

No, the 1996 cars aren’t part of the recall. All the attention has been on post-2000 cars and especially those after 2002.

Lee’s car was traveling at between 70 and 90 mph when it struck two other vehicles. Javis Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr., died instantly. Another passenger, 6-year-old Devyn Bolton, was left paraplegic and later died from her injuries.

Two mechanical engineers examined the car before trial on behalf of the state and the defense, according to the prosecutor. Both concluded the brakes were operating and there were no problems with the acceleration.

“Bottom line, two experts – one for each side – said there was nothing wrong with the car,” she said.

Butt CNN seems to think it’s found evidence of Lee’s innocence. It turns out that a search of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s online complaint database revealed “at least two dozen” related to vehicle speed control for the 1996 Toyota Camry. Res ipsa loquitur! as lawyers say. The thing speaks for itself.


Except that every year since the Audi 5000 debacle, which popularized the concept of sudden acceleration (though it proved that the vehicle was blameless) NHTSA gets sudden acceleration complaints for all types of cars. In the last decade, it’s gotten about 13,000 for all vehicle makes and models of which only 3,000 concerned Toyotas.

Moreover, as CNN was good enough to inform us, “Not all the entries for ‘vehicle speed control’ complain of sudden acceleration.”

Ah! But then CNN has that which beats a thousand statistics! It has an ANECDOTE! “In a July 26, 2003, incident,” it relates, “a 1996 Camry waiting at a red light lurched forward into oncoming traffic, where it was struck by a car and a motorcycle.” The motorcyclist later died.

It “lurched” forward? It couldn’t just have been “driven forward”? I know that I am as conscientious a driver as they come and would never intentionally run a red light, but on more than one occasion I absently-minded simply drove forward while the light was red. I’ve seen others do the same. But I don’t call it a “lurch.” I call it “mindless, irresponsible, dumb.”

Obviously there needs to be a blanket amnesty for any Toyota driver involved in any speeding accident or, for that matter, who got a speeding ticket, dating back to when Toyotas were introduced in this country.

Justice must be served!