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DUI Crash Driver Flees to South Korea

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It’s not every day that an Orange County freeway fatality gets international attention.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, there is an arrest warrant for Youn Bum Lee, an executive at Hyundai Motor Co., who left for his home country of South Korea, allegedly with the help of his colleagues, after a fatal motorcycle accident on the 55 Freeway in Orange County involving a vehicle Lee was driving while intoxicated.

Orange County prosecutors are charging Lee with three felonies in the death of 23-year-old Ryan Dallas Cook, who on the fateful night of Oct. 18, 2005, was taking the 55 Freeway back home after practicing with his band. Lee is being charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs with injury and hit-and-run with injury or death, according to the Times article. Also, the victim’s family has told prosecutors that they want Hyundai executives to be held liable because they helped Lee flee to Korea before police got wind of it.

Officials from multiple agencies are now looking for this man. His wife and child apparently moved out of the couple’s Irvine home the day after the incident. Federal officials tell the Times that some of Lee’s co-workers at Hyundai’s subsidiary in Fountain Valley were not forthcoming with information during the early stages of the investigation. Cook’s relatives are planning on filing a wrongful death lawsuit and believe that there was a cover-up at Hyundai.

According to police reports Lee, a 40-year-old executive at Hyundai, had dinner with his colleagues at a Garden Grove restaurant in the hours before the incident. The Times article says the group ate barbecued ribs and soup and drank 14 bottles of Saan Soju, a Korean rice wine with 20 percent alcohol content. Lee himself drank about eight shots, reports said. Apparently, they didn’t stop there. At 10 p.m., the party jumped to a karaoke bar where the men drank 16 cans of Hite beer in a VIP room. After that, Lee drove back alone to his Irvine home.

Witnesses who called 911 shortly after the fatal accident reported that Lee was weaving in the southbound lanes of the 55 Freeway and eventually crashed his SUV into the concrete barrier in the carpool lane north of the MacArthur Boulevard exit in Santa Ana. The SUV had no hazard lights on and simply stalled. Cook, who naturally missed the dark-colored SUV, struck the left rear of the SUV and was thrown from his motorcycle and struck by three other vehicles. He died at the scene and autopsy tests showed no sign of alcohol or drugs in Cook’s blood stream.

A short time later, several 911 callers described a dark SUV weaving in the southbound lanes of the 55 Freeway, then crashing into the concrete barrier in the carpool lane just north of MacArthur Boulevard, with no lights on and appearing stalled. The day after the accident Lee deserted his car in his office lot, caught a cab to LAX and boarded an airplane to South Korea without telling his wife where he was going. The only other time when anyone else heard from him was when Lee called his colleague and asked him to “take care of his family,” the Times article says, citing police and court records.

Who can blame the young man’s family for their anger at this man? Obviously he knew he had done wrong and he was responsible for this man’s death. The amount of alcohol that he consumed with his co-workers before the accident and his own erratic driving are all clear giveaways in my opinion.

If you or a loved one has been injured or has suffered a loss as a result of a negligent or drunk driver, call me – John Bisnar of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, at 1-800-259-6373 for a free consultation.

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