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Defendant blames Toyota runaway acceleration for fatal 2008 crash

COURTS

Umni Suk Chung is charged with vehicular manslaughter. She said her Lexus RX 330 sped up -- even as she braked -- on the 10 Freeway in West Los Angeles.

March 26, 2010|By Stuart Pfeifer

Los Angeles County prosecutors are taking a close look at the case of a woman who faces vehicular manslaughter charges for a 2008 freeway crash that she blames on sudden acceleration.

Umni Suk Chung told investigators that her Lexus RX 330 accelerated on its own -- even as she frantically applied the brakes -- before a fatal crash on the 10 Freeway in West Los Angeles.

A prosecutor from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Friday that his office was closely examining Chung's account. She faces felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving causing injury.

"The district attorney's office is doing everything it possibly can to make sure the conduct was criminal and not as a result of automobile defect," Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Markus said. "Every case that we get involved with, there's obviously a defense presented, and we would examine the conduct in the same fashion."

Chung, a Torrance resident, was driving some co-workers back to the office after lunch when her car raced to nearly 80 mph and crashed into a Mercedes sedan on the Overland Avenue exit ramp. Her sister-in-law Esook Synn, who was in the back seat of the Lexus SUV, was killed in the crash. Chung and another passenger were seriously injured.

The surviving passenger told investigators from the California Highway Patrol that Chung shouted, "No brakes! No brakes! No brakes!" in the moments before the Dec. 15, 2008, crash.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled millions of Lexus and Toyota vehicles in recent months to repair defects that it said could, in rare instances, cause gas pedals to stick. The Lexus RX 330 is not among the recalled models. But Chung's lawyer said he believes an electronic system glitch caused the car to suddenly accelerate.

"This case got filed and investigated before anybody knew about the problems with these Toyotas," said Chung's lawyer, Richard Hutton. "Hopefully this case will get thrown out."

Chung, 62, is scheduled to appear in court June 25 so a judge can set a date for a preliminary hearing.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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