County Considers $6.5M to Settle Claims that 911 Operator Encouraged Chase

Court Settlement

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider paying $6.5 million to settle lawsuits filed by the parents of a 16- year-old Torrance high school baseball player who was killed in a traffic crash that began following a minor collision that led to a road chase -- allegedly at the urging of a 911 dispatcher.

Jesse Eric Esphorst, a South High School student, was killed in the March 7, 2017, crash at Crenshaw Boulevard and Crest Road in Torrance.

According to Torrance police, a 2004 Audi A6 driven by Darryl Leander Hicks Jr. of Los Angeles and a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 driven by Tung Ming of Rancho Palos Verdes were northbound on Crenshaw Boulevard when the drivers failed to stop for a red light and crashed into the Esphorst's 2000 Toyota Sienna, which was turning left from southbound Crenshaw to eastbound Crest at about 10 p.m.

Hicks and Ming had been involved in an minor collision a short time earlier, according to the lawsuits, which state that Ming called 911 and was pursuing Hicks' car when both motorists ran the red light and hit the Toyota van. Hicks left after the crash, but Ming remained at the scene.

At the time of the collision with the van, the 911 operator -- a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy -- was still on the phone with Ming, waiting for him to provide Hicks' license plate number, the parents contended in their suits.

The parents claimed the 911 operator encouraged Ming to pursue Hicks following the initial minor collision, leading to the high-speed chase that ended with the crash that killed Jesse Esphorst. The county denied liability, arguing in court papers that Ming was already chasing Hicks before he even called 911.

According to the lawsuits, Hicks and Ming were both traveling at speeds topping 100 mph. Jesse Esphorst and his father were in the minivan when it was struck. The pair were heading home after having dinner with the teen's grandmother.

Hicks, then 32, and Ming, then 24, were convicted in 2020 of one felony count each of gross vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving causing injury or death. Hicks was also found guilty of hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person and hit-and-run driving resulting in specified injury, along with one misdemeanor count each of hit-and-run driving causing property damage -- involving an earlier crash into Ming's vehicle -- and driving on a suspended license.

Hicks was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Ming was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

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