South Korean man pleads guilty to manslaughter in OC DUI crash

A South Korean man pleaded guilty today to manslaughter for a 2005 freeway crash while under the influence of alcohol, killing a motorcyclist. He had allegedly fled the scene of the crime for South Korea, before being extradited back to the United States.

Youn Bum Lee, 42, formerly of Irvine, pleaded guilty to one felony count of vehicular manslaughter by unlawful act with gross negligence while intoxicated, with a longer sentence for fleeing the scene of the crime. He is expected to be sentenced to nine years in state prison.

According to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, at approximately 8 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2005, Lee attended a company sponsored dinner at Seoul Oak Korean BBQ Restaurant in Garden Grove with six coworkers from Hyundai. The group consumed 14 bottles of a distilled Korean rice wine, soju, before going to a nearby karaoke bar.

Lee allegedly consumed more alcohol at the karaoke bar before getting into his black company-issued Hyundai SUV at approximately 12:05 a.m. Lee drove with his headlights off on State Route 22 onto State Route 55 heading south, then veered into the carpool lane and crashed into the center median.

Lee's SUV came to a stop in the carpool lane, where motorcyclist Ryan Dallas Cook, 23, of Fountain Valley, was unable to stop in time to avoid crashing into Lee's car. Cook was thrown from his motorcycle, then run over by several other vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Lee fled the scene.

Lee went to work at Hyundai later that morning and attempted to hide evidence of the crash, including a shattered back windshield, blood, hair, and other human tissue from Cook. Lee consulted with a coworker and with Hyundai's General counsel; the coworker and a supervisor drove Lee to Los Angeles International airport that afternoon. Lee boarded a red eye flight that night on Korean Air to Seoul, South Korea, leaving his wife and child behind.

The Orange County D.A. submitted a request for extradition in September 2008; Lee was arrested by South Korean authorities on Dec. 2, 2008, and extradited to Orange County on Jan. 30, 2009.

The Orange County D.A. worked with Hyundai to locate a witness who they could not subpoena because he lives in South Korea. On July 22, 2009, the witness, Jason Ryu, testified for three hours.

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