2017 Los Angeles County Deadly Collision Settles for $6.5 Million
In 2017, Jesse Eric Esphorst, a 16-year-old Torrance high school baseball player, died in a fatal collision near the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Crest Road. The 911 operator had reportedly encouraged the driver who hit Jesse to pursue a vehicle that had fled from another accident moments earlier.
Jesse’s father, Jessie Franklin Esphorst, filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County. Caltrans and the city of Torrance, along with motorists Darryl Leander Hicks Jr. and Tung Ming, were named as defendants in the wrongful death suit.
In 2020, the Torrance Superior Court jury found Hicks guilty of six counts, including vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving, hit-and-run, and driving on a suspended license. He received an 11-year prison sentence. Ming was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving that same year and was sentenced to over two years in prison.
On the night of the accident around 10 p.m, Hicks was driving a 2004 Audi southbound on Crenshaw near Silver Spur Road in Rolling Hills Estates when he made an illegal U-turn and collided with a 2014 Mercedes driven by Ming. Following the crash, Hicks fled the scene at high speed northbound on Crenshaw. Ming immediately dialed 911 and was connected to a Los Angeles County emergency services operator.
Ming informed the operator that his vehicle had been hit by another vehicle that had fled the scene and that he was pursuing it down a hill northbound on Crenshaw toward Pacific Coast Highway.
According to the suit, the operator told Ming, “Give me the license plate when you can.”
Ming remained on the phone with the operator as he pursued the Audi driven by Hicks northbound on Crenshaw, reaching speeds of over 80 mph and eventually exceeding 100 mph.
Jesse Franklin Esphorst was driving his 2000 Sienna Toyota van with his son in the front passenger seat when he made a left turn at Crenshaw and Crest. Both Hicks and Ming ran a red light, colliding with the van, killing Jesse Eric Esphorst and seriously injuring his father.
The 911 operator was still on the phone with Ming at the time of the fatal crash. Hicks fled in his Audi and was later apprehended.
After the crash, Ming told a police officer that the 911 operator asked him to catch up with the Audi so he could obtain the vehicle’s license plate number.
“It is an ordinary standard that a 911 operator never instruct a caller to engage in an illegal act,” the lawsuit says. “The acts and omissions of the county 911 operator were an extreme departure from ordinary standards of conduct, and were grossly negligent.”
The Los Angeles County Claims Board recommended that the Board of Supervisors issue the settlement.
Jessie won the settlement and was awarded $6.5 million.
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