Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hyundai settles with family of Ryan Dallas Cook

This was a long time coming. It was back in April 2006 that I first wrote about Youn Bum Lee, the Hyundai America executive who drove drunk and stopped his car in the fast lane of the Costa Mesa Freeway (CA-55), causing motorcyclist Ryan Dallas Cook to smash into it and be killed.

The incident had happened in October 2005, but because of malfeasance by at least one other Hyundai employee, there'd been difficulty in finding the guilty party. It wasn't until January 2009 that Lee was finally extradited (thanks in part, it should be noted, to cooperation by Hyundai) and put on trial for vehicular manslaughter. He was eventually found guilty in December 2009 and is serving a nine-year sentence.

And today we have news that Hyundai has settled with the Cook family over this wrongful death.

From the Orange County Register:
Cook's family sued Lee and Hyundai in May 2007. Their attorney, Wylie Aitken, claimed the company had a corporate culture of promoting drinking at company functions and that Hyundai executives helped Lee flee the country shortly after the incident.

Aitken also alleged Hyundai hid a key witness to the pre-crash drinking activities and the company's practices.

Cook's father, Carlton, said in a statement that he was pleased with the settlement.

"We are pleased the legal system has prevailed and that Youn Bum Lee was brought back from Korea and is now serving his sentence for the death of our son,'' he said in a statement.
Damn straight about the corporate drinking culture. As I wrote in the comments of the "found guilty" link above:
This kind of thing could only have happened because of Korea's corporate drinking culture, which has been carried over to some Korean companies in Orange County and throughout California and the US. Not all Korean companies, of course, but the ones who do this should be put on notice that this kind of thing cannot be tolerated. Not in Korea, not in America.
I wonder if my comments had anything to do with the plaintiff team's strategy. The comment above and the latter half of the April 2006 post were intended to highlight the culpability of that corporate drinking culture.


  1. If you did indeed help bring justice for this family, then good for you!

  2. Raging against forced binge drinking (see the bottom of the April 2006 post) and drunk driving (which often goes hand-in-hand with it) are particular passions of mine (in no small part because of having been hit twice by drunk drivers in Korea back in the 1990s) and I would have been prepared to act pro bono as an expert witness (Korean Studies M.A. apparently qualifies me for that) and go on the witness stand and lay bare the icha drinking culture that no doubt played a part in this.

    So at the very least, back in 2006 and 2009, I wanted to prominently put out these ideas, not just for this case and the punitive damages it might bring, but also the preventative side. I see in Seoul itself the dramatic erosion of much of the icha culture because of a variety of factors (proliferation of unannounced sobriety checkpoints, a new focus on family time, employees increasingly willing to speak out in favor of going home early, the weakening of the "boys' club" atmosphere of many companies, awareness of health risks, etc.), but like many things, this wave hasn't necessarily reached the periphery of the Korean diaspora.

    And toward that end, I'd love to have, say, the Garden Grove Police Department or the Orange County Sheriff read my comments and wonder if expanded sobriety checkpoints around Garden Grove Boulevard businesses isn't a bad idea. Yeah, the OC Register does provide that kind of environment, to some extent. I know I've gotten hits in the high hundreds to my Ryan Dallas Cook pieces, so someone is paying attention, and that may include law enforcement, the Cook family's lawyers, OC journalists, and maybe even folks from Hyundai America themselves.

    But don't get me wrong: This is not an exclusively Korean or kyopo problem. Frankly, I'm appalled at the problem of driving while drunk or high here in Honolulu (across all ethnic groups), and back in California the penalties are so relatively minor as to be a mere nuisance rather than a real deterrent.

    Okay. I'll get off the soapbox now.


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