Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sorry Goes a Long Way

Here's my annual reminder of how anomalous the sentence was after Koua Fong Lee was found guilty of negligent homicide when his Toyota accelerated against his intention and killed several people. Lee got eight years in prison even though he had not been drinking and he was trying to stop the car -- which held his entire family. (He was finally released after a new trial and recently won a civil trial against Toyota, joined by the family of the people killed in the crash.)

Here's what it takes to get anything similar to Lee's sentence. Michael Vanwagner, known as the "smiley face" driver, had a 0.293 blood alcohol level when he drove at 60 miles an hour into a stopped car driven by a 16-year-old boy. According to the Star Tribune, "both cars [were] thrust vertically from the force that ultimately killed the teen."

Just before the final crash, Vanwagner had hit another car, but that didn't stop him. He was driving with a suspended license and no insurance. And, to top it off, a couple of days later, after he sobered up and got out of the hospital, he "posted a photo on Facebook of the mangled vehicle he had been driving. He wrote atop the posting, 'That’s her front end after I got done with her lol' and added a 'smiley face.'"

For all of that, Vanwagner got a nine year sentence, one year longer than Lee's. The maximum was 10 years, but the judge took off one year because Vanwagner pled guilty and relieved the victim's family of "the torment of a trial." Lee was, in effect, penalized for trying to prove his innocence.

Other drivers with terrible records and multiple deaths or clear negligence have been sentenced to fewer years than Lee. But that's okay, I guess, since they all said they were sorry, too.

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