An engineer who testified for Toyota Motor Corp. presented evidence in federal court in Minneapolis on Wednesday that a St. Paul man had his foot on the accelerator, not the brakes, when his Toyota Camry plowed into an Oldsmobile Ciera, resulting in three deaths.
Engineer Karl Stopschinski of Houston rebutted arguments by attorneys for Koua Fong Lee, the driver of the 1996 Camry. Lee has joined forces with the family of the people riding in the 1995 Ciera in a lawsuit against Toyota.
Attorneys for the Lee family and the family in the Ciera rested their case Wednesday, the 11th day of the trial. It is expected to wind up early next week and go to the jury.
The accident occurred on June 10, 2006, when Lee, driving the Camry with four members of his family as passengers, exited eastbound Interstate 94 at Snelling Avenue. Lee said that the car inexplicably accelerated while he frantically pumped the brakes, striking the Ciera and killing a Minneapolis man, Javis Trice-Adams Sr., and his son, Javis Jr., 9, and injuring a daughter, Devyn Bolton, 6, who died more than a year later. Two other family members in the Ciera suffered injuries.
For Lee and his family, the biggest impact appears to have been psychological trauma. Their attorneys and experts claim that the cause of the accident was a defective accelerator in which nylon pulleys connected to the gas pedal became stuck.
In testimony Wednesday, Stopschinski described his reconstruction of the crash, his examination of the two vehicles and tests of a similar Camry that he said showed that Toyota was not at fault.
To prove Lee applied the brakes, his attorneys earlier introduced evidence that a rear brake light bulb broke after the Camry hit the Ciera and then another car. An examination of the bulb showed that the light filament was in a deformed position, which occurs when the brake light goes on. It remained permanently in that position when the bulb broke in the crash and was exposed to air.
But Stopschinski introduced evidence of tests of a similar Camry that showed that when the car struck an immovable object, the inertia caused the brake lights to go on for a split second even if the brakes were not applied.
Stopschinski’s analysis of the vehicles and damage indicated that the Camry struck the Ciera going 73 to 82 miles per hour, a figure similar to the estimate of an expert who testified earlier on Lee’s behalf.
Drawn out by Toyota attorney David Graves, who noted that Lee had said he was driving 55 or 60 mph on the exit ramp, Stopschinski said if the accelerator had become stuck as Lee maintains, the Camry could not have picked up speed and reached 73 mph at the time of impact.
Stopschinski also showed the jury slides of a rod attached to the accelerator behind the dashboard inside Lee’s damaged Camry. The rod was somewhat flattened and the gas pedal was tilted, which Stopschinski said is what would have occurred if Lee had his foot on the gas pedal at the time of the crash.
Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in 2007 and spent more than two years in prison, before reports about unintentional acceleration of similar Toyota models led to a decision by then Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner to release him.
While some Toyota models have been recalled, the 1996 Toyota Camry was not one of them.