The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed a $6.5 million settlement for a couple who sued the county and others after their teenage son was killed in a civil car chase, citing “gross negligence” by a 911 operator.
The payment will go to Julie Esphorst and Jesse Esphorst Sr., the parents of 16-year-old Jesse Esphorst Jr.. The parents separately filed wrongful death lawsuits against the county, the city of Torrance, the state Department of Transportation and others.
911 dispatcher Jessica Lynn Lindsay, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who parents say was negligent in the incident that led to the teen’s death five years ago, is not not listed as a co-defendant, but mentioned in the lawsuit.
On March 7, 2017, Tung Ming of Rancho Palos Verdes was driving northbound on Crenshaw Boulevard when Darryl Leander Hicks of Los Angeles made an illegal U-turn and hit Ming’s vehicle. Hicks set off with Ming in pursuit.
As Ming followed Hicks, he called 911 to report the incident. According to the lawsuits, Lindsay told Ming to get the license plate number of the car that hit him. Because she repeatedly asked him for the license plate number of the getaway vehicle, Ming said in a deposition, he thought she was ordering him to drive faster.
Jesse and his dad were returning from a baseball game when their van was hit — first by Hicks’s vehicle, then by Ming’s — while driving a green light at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and the Crest Road in Torrance.
Jesse and his father were seriously injured. Jesse died of his injuries that night in a hospital.
Jesse was a sophomore at South Torrance High School, a talented baseball player who hit a home run just hours before the accident to help his varsity team to a victory. He was driving home with his father to attend a family birthday party, according to the Daily Breeze.
Attorney John Taylor is representing Jessie’s mother. He said that as a sworn peace officer, Lindsay knew the dangers of car chases. But he said in an interview that Lindsay was apparently so caught up in the chase that she never asked Ming how fast he was going.
“The public places so much trust in 911 operators for assistance and guidance, and it demonstrates the heavy responsibility that the operator has, but it’s really a failure to follow common sense,” Taylor said. “She was kind of telling Ming to engage in a law enforcement function rather than stopping the pursuit.”
Taylor said it appeared that one of the cars that hit the Esphorsts’ van was traveling over 80 mph, in a 45 mph zone.
Hicks and Ming have since been convicted of criminal charges. Ming, who remained at the scene after the accident, was sentenced to more than two years in state prison for manslaughter and reckless driving. Hicks was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In Ming’s case, Superior Court Judge Amy Carter handed down a more lenient sentence due to his lack of criminal history.
Both men appealed; a state court upheld the convictions but ruled that Hicks should be re-sentenced.
The payment was recommended by the LA County Claims Board, which reviews all proposed settlements over $100,000 and refers them to the Board of Supervisors for decision.
County attorneys attempted to have the cases dismissed by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Lindsay had immunity from liability as a law enforcement officer acting within the scope of his duties.
In a response, Garo Mardirossian, Eshorst Sr.’s attorney, cited case law suggesting that immunity applied “unless the victim’s damage is attributable to an act or omission” committed with gross negligence.”
Christina Denning, a San Diego defense attorney who has represented people whose loved ones have been killed in police pursuits, explained, “In other words, the plaintiffs persuaded the judge that the dispatcher’s conduct was a extreme departure from ordinary police practice.
The dispatcher, Mardirossian said in an interview, “should have said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t sue. ”
The Esphorsts suffered another tragedy two years after the accident that claimed Jesse’s life; their son Cody died at age 17 of congenital heart disease, Mardirossian said.
Los Angeles Times