Defendant denies intent to kill driver he set afire
A Punchbowl man smashed a car window, doused his neighbor with gasoline and set him afire as the neighbor's family sat inside the car watching in horror, prosecutors say.
But the defense says that while Keith Yamamoto did attack and injure Lai Lim Leong, he never intended to kill him or injure his family.
Trial began yesterday in Circuit Court for Yamamoto, charged with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree terroristic threatening and two counts of first-degree criminal property damage in the Oct. 4, 2004, attack.
That morning, Leong was backing his family's Mercedes out of the garage of their Bush Lane home when he heard and spotted Yamamoto pull up in his truck, blocking his vehicle, Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Tashima said. In the car with Leong was his wife, Pei Hong; 11-month-old daughter, Dana; and sister Ling Na.
Leong locked the car doors and closed all the windows when he saw Yamamoto, holding a 4-foot-long spear gun, approach their car and yell expletives, Tashima said.
Moments later, Leong saw Yamamoto swinging an object at their car's rear window, shattering the safety glass where Leong's wife sat. Yamamoto came to the driver's side, pointed the spear gun at Leong and smashed the driver's-side window with a sledgehammer, Tashima said. The impact shattered the glass and created a hole the size of a baseball.
As Leong's family screamed, Yamamoto removed a plastic squeeze bottle from his tool belt and sprayed Leong with a liquid and set him on fire, Tashima said.
Leong's wife, their baby and his sister managed to get out of the car and fled inside their home. Leong, screaming in pain, also escaped through the passenger-side door and fled down Bush Lane, Tashima said.
Leong, with Yamamoto in pursuit, fled down Lusitana Street, over the H-1 overpass and down Queen Emma Street, where he flagged down a passing motorist.
Leong suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns, mostly to the left side of his body and face. Despite undergoing skin graft surgery, a doctor said Leong will have permanent and significant scarring, Tashima said.
A police officer responding to a purse-snatching in the area spotted Yamamoto running and stopped when Yamamoto waved him over.
The officer questioned Yamamoto, who responded by saying he was chasing "that f----g bastard." He spoke about how much he hated this person who was always messing with him and his grandfather, Tashima said.
"I set him on fire," Yamamoto allegedly told the officer.
Deputy Public Defender Darcia Forrester said Yamamoto might have terrorized Leong and his family and assaulted Leong, but he is not guilty of attempted murder.
"At no time did Keith Yamamoto wish to hurt or injure anyone else in the car," she added.
If convicted of the second-degree attempted murder charge, Yamamoto faces life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.