A jury has awarded $150 million to a 13-year-old Riverside girl whose family burned to death four years ago when their SUV slammed into the back of a truck that was illegally parked on a freeway.
Kylie Asam and her older brother survived the Nov. 22, 2009, accident by crawling out a broken rear window. Their mother, father and another brother were killed before they were able to get out of their GMC Yukon.
The family was on its way to visit relatives in Oregon for Thanksgiving.
Attorney Brian Brandt, who represented Kylie in her wrongful death lawsuit, alleged that the truck's driver, Rudolph Ortiz, was parked on the right shoulder of the 210 Freeway near La Crescenta. Ortiz parked his truck in an area designated for emergencies only without his trailer lights or emergency reflectors on, Brandt said.
Brandt said the Ortiz's attorney argued at trial that his client had pulled over to the side of the road to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency. The attorney also argued that Ortiz had parked on the dirt to the right of the shoulder, Brandt said.
Brandt, however, said Ortiz had given multiple accounts of why he was parked in the area, including stopping to urinate and pulling over to sleep.
Attorney Raymond McElfish, who represented Ortiz and the trucking company he worked for, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The jury deliberated for three days before reaching its verdict, which includes $8.75 million in damages for Kylie's brother, Blaine, who committed suicide in June, four days before his mother's birthday. The money, including Blaine's portion, will be kept in a trust fund for Kylie, Brandt said.
The verdict was against Ortiz and Bhandal Bros. Trucking.
Brandt called the case tragic, saying that he hoped the verdict would "send a message to the entire trucking industry and the nation...and tell these drivers they can't endanger us."