By City News Service
A jury heard Friday from a good Samaritan who stopped along a freeway in Sunland in 2009 and tried in vain to free passengers from a burning SUV while at the same time trying to comfort two children who escaped the flames that killed their parents and another sibling.
"I knew it was bad," Patrick Carroll said in a video deposition shown to the jury. "You could hear the woman in the passenger side."
The woman turned out to be the mother of the boy and girl, who were "screaming and crying" and trying to free her from the burning SUV as she pleaded for her release, Carroll testified.
Carroll said the SUV passenger door could not be opened due to damage that occurred when the vehicle collided with the back of a parked big rig. He also testified that after he was unable to put out the fire with a small fire extinguisher, he put the two children in his truck and moved about 50 feet from the burning car as the flames grew.
"I backed my truck up quite a ways and made sure the kids weren't watching the fire," Carroll testified.
He added that he also made small talk with both children to try and take their minds off the tragedy.
Michael Asam, 41, his 40-year-old wife, Shannon, and their 14-year-old son, Brennen, were killed about 5 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009, when their 2007 GMC Yukon struck the rear of the big rig, which was parked along the westbound right shoulder of the 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 lawsuit on their behalf in October 2011, naming driver Rudolph Ortiz, and his employer, Watsonville-based Bhandal Bros. Trucking Inc. Ortiz had parked his truck on the same shoulder Asam tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway and tried to stop.
Asam never saw Ortiz's truck in the darkness, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Ortiz testified earlier this week that he stopped his truck to urinate and to take aspirin for a headache. He said he intended to be there only five to six minutes, and was transporting a load of lettuce from Yuma, Ariz., to Salinas.
However, Carroll testified he overheard Ortiz tell a paramedic at the scene a different story.
"He said he was sleeping and that it felt like a bomb went off," Carroll said.
Ortiz also said that the lights on his trailer were lit. But Carroll said that when he arrived, the truck was completely dark.
"It had no lights on," he said.
Carroll said he was surprised when the children told him their brother was also dead. He said he did not know Brennen also was in the SUV.
Carroll's deposition was shown to jurors because he was out of the country and unable to come to court to testify.
Plaintiff's attorney Brian Brandt said large trucks are heavily regulated and that laws prohibit them from being parked along freeway shoulders except for an emergency. Ortiz did not have any such urgency and could have pulled off the road at numerous exits instead, Brandt said.
The Asams were headed to Oregon to visit the children's grandparents for Thanksgiving.
Shannon Asam was a longtime legal assistant and her husband worked as a Riverside Public Utilities power line technician.
Blaine died in June, leaving his sister, now 13, as his successor-in- interest and the only living plaintiff. The girl lives with an aunt.