By City News Service
A Riverside family of five headed to visit relatives in 2009 never made it because their SUV struck the rear of a big rig illegally parked in an emergency shoulder on the Foothill (210) Freeway in Sunland, killing three of them in the fiery crash, an attorney told a jury today.
"When it comes to truck versus car, it is the car that loses virtually every time," lawyer Brian Brandt said in his opening statement in trial of a wrongful death suit stemming from the deaths of Michael Asam, 41, his 40-year- old wife, Shannon, and their 14-year-old son, Brennen.
All three died about 5 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009, when their 2007 GMC Yukon struck the larger vehicle along the right shoulder of the westbound 210, east of Sunland Boulevard.
The Asams' daughter, Kylie, then 9, and other son, Blaine, then 11, escaped from the wreckage before the SUV burst into flames.
The children's paternal grandfather, David Asam, filed a wrongful death suit on their behalf in October 2011 against the truck driver, Rudolph Ortiz, and his employer, Watsonville-based Bhandal Bros. Trucking Inc.
Blaine died in June, leaving his sister, now 13, as his successor-in-interest and the only living plaintiff.
According to court papers filed by defense attorney Raymond McElfish, Ortiz pulled over because he had a headache that made it unsafe for him to drive.
But Brandt told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that large trucks are heavily regulated and that laws prohibit them from being parked along freeway shoulders except for an emergency. "Doing so locks out those motorists who need to use that emergency area," he said.
Ortiz did not have any such urgency and could have pulled off the road at numerous exits instead, Brandt said.
When Michael Asam, driving the SUV, struck debris in the road and tried to reach the right shoulder, he never saw the parked truck and crashed into the back of it, Brandt said.
Kylie and Blaine were able to crawl out of a window as a fire started in their vehicle and their mother began to scream, "Please get me out of here," Brandt said.
But neither they nor Patrick Carroll, a motorist who stopped to help, were able to rescue the trapped family members as the fire grew in intensity, Brandt said.
"The truck driver was nowhere to be found," he said.
Carroll made two 911 calls for help, Brandt said.
"If you don't get here, it's going to be too late," Carroll told the 911 operator during the second call, according to Brandt.
Carroll's prediction proved true as the SUV became engulfed in flames, Brandt said.
Eventually, a man walked back to where Carroll was parked to talk to him, the attorney said.
"That stranger was Mr. Ortiz, the truck driver," Brandt said.
The Asams were headed to Oregon to visit the children's grandparents for Thanksgiving.
Shannon Asam was a long-time legal assistant and her husband worked as a Riverside Public Utilities power line technician.