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Lawsuit over fatal St. Paul crash that led to wrongful imprisonment is underway

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A lawsuit to determine whether Toyota was at fault for a 2006 crash that killed three people in St. Paul – and led to the wrongful imprisonment of a driver – is underway.

The trial started Thursday, with the suit claiming the carmaker was responsible for a fatal crash that saw a Camry slam into the back of a family's Oldsmobile, WCCO reports, instantly killing two people, paralyzing and later killing a third, and permanently injuring two others.

Camry driver Koua Fong Lee spent more than two years in prison after being convicted of criminal vehicular homicide. He was eventually released with the help of the Minnesota Innocence Project after Toyota reported some of its models had been experiencing acceleration issues.

The Associated Press reports Lee told the court yesterday that he is "still haunted" by the crash, and that his heart races, his hands get cold and his body shakes whenever he thinks about the incident.

The crash killed Javis Trice-Adams Sr and his 9-year-old son. His 6-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was left paralyzed and died in October 2007, according to Ramsey County documents published by KSTP.

Lee's 1996 Camry was not one of the models recalled by Toyota in 2008 because of an acceleration defect, MPR reported – but the judge says this should not be considered by the jury, AP says. Jurors have been told to disregard Lee's conviction and imprisonment too, WCCO notes.

The trial will focus on whether Lee's car had a defect in the car's mechanical accelerator control system that Toyota had failed to identify, which Lee's attorney, Robert Hilliard, said prevented him from stopping.

The Star Tribune reports Toyota is arguing that driver error, and not the carmaker, was responsible for the crash, saying that Lee had mistakenly hit the accelerator rather than the brake.

The newspaper notes that attorney for Toyota Brad Borkon told the trial that "the evidence is going to show that this crash is not Toyota's fault," saying that Lee's car had worked perfectly for 177,000 miles prior to the crash, and that the brakes worked when tested two days after the accident.

Lee is the leadoff witness in the lawsuit, and is among several plaintiff seeking damages from Toyota over the crash.

Last month Lee became the first person to qualify under new laws granting compensation for citizens wrongfully imprisoned in Minnesota.

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