Prosecutors dismissed charges of reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter against a Southern California woman who blamed her deadly Lexus crash on a mechanical malfunction.
Safety recalls by Toyota Motor Corp., which manufactures Lexus cars, would make it difficult to win a conviction against Unmi Suk Chung, 62, Los Angeles County district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison said on November 3.
Chung claimed her Lexus RX330 sport utility vehicle suddenly sped out of control and the brakes failed before she crashed on Interstate 10 in West Los Angeles two years ago.
The crash killed Chung’s sister-in-law, Esook Synn, 69, who was in the back seat. A surviving passenger told investigators Chung had screamed “no brakes” several times before the crash.
The Torrance woman had faced up to six years in state prison if convicted. The charges were dismissed Oct. 19 before trial.
Prosecutors would have had to argue the case in the wake of hundreds of lawsuits filed against Toyota after the company started recalling millions of vehicles because of acceleration problems in several models.
Chung’s car was not listed among the models recently recalled. The RX330 is safe and reliable, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told the Los Angeles Times.
Head Deputy District Attorney John Lynch told the Times that he believed Chung inadvertently pressed the gas pedal instead of the brakes.
“The likelihood that 12 people in the community would convict this woman was not good,” Lynch said. “I think she would present a very sympathetic figure in the courtroom.”
Synn’s relatives and a passenger who was injured in the crash asked prosecutors to drop the case, Lynch said.
The family has a pending wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota.
Chung’s lawyer, Richard Hutton, said the dismissal was proper and if the case had gone to trial, he would have argued that a computer malfunction was to blame for the crash.
“It’s a tremendous load off her shoulders,” he said of his client. “She was very depressed. Combined with the death, it was the worst part of her life.”