Toyota driver freed after 2 yrs in prison

ST. PAUL, Minn. After spending more than two years in prison and protesting his innocence, Koua Fong Lee was freed upon retrial because of new evidence concerning the safety of Toyota vehicles.

Lee had been driving a 1996 Toyota Camry on his way home from church when he crashed into another car in 2006 on a St. Paul offramp, leaving three people dead. Lee was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison.

At the time of his trial, Lee insisted that he was innocent.

"I stepped on the brake and nothing happened," said Lee. "I yelled to my family … the brake's not working."

His case was considered for retrial after a wave of Toyota recalls involving sudden acceleration problems in some of its newer models.

Prosecutors first offered Lee a plea bargain that would get him out of prison with the felony conviction still on his record, but he refused.

"He'd rather do the time than admit to something he knows he didn't do," said Lee's attorney, Bill Hilliard.

On Thursday a Minnesota judge ruled that Lee deserved a new trial and the prosecution announced that they would not bring charges against him.

An emotional Lee said he was thrilled to return to his family and the four young children he had been unable to be a father to over his past two years in prison.

"The first thing I am going to do is talk to them and to get to know them and play with them."

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