Jury Awards $60 Million to Parents of Teen Killed in Civilian Car Chase

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — A jury in L.A. County Superior Court has awarded the parents of a teenager killed in a civilian car chase more than $60 million in damages. The jury awarded $23.25 million to Julie Esphorst and $36.5 million to Jesse Esphorst Sr.

The tragic incident occurred six years ago when 16-year-old Jesse Esphorst Jr. and his father were returning from a baseball game. Their minivan was struck by two vehicles involved in a chase at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Crest Road in Torrance. Jesse’s father was severely injured, while Jesse tragically lost his life that night.

The car chase was initiated by Tung Ming of Rancho Palos Verdes and Darryl Leander Hicks of Los Angeles. After Hicks hit Ming’s vehicle while making an illegal U-turn, Ming pursued Hicks and called 911 to report the incident. However, the 911 operator repeatedly told Ming to get the plate number of Hicks’ vehicle, causing Ming to drive faster.

According to Julie Esphorst’s civil complaint in 2018, Ming recklessly and carelessly pursued Hicks through residential streets at a high rate of speed, as directed by the 911 operator. The chase came to a tragic end when Ming and Hicks crashed into the Esphorsts’ minivan and fled the scene.

The jury found Ming 95% at fault and Hicks 5% at fault. As a result, Hicks was ordered to pay $18,000, and Ming was ordered to pay $2 million in punitive damages to the couple.

The judge barred Ming’s attorney from presenting a defense on his behalf due to his inability to appear at the trial. The reason for his absence remains unclear. Ming’s attorney believes that if the complete evidence, including the circumstances surrounding the hit-and-run and Ming’s compliance with 911 instructions, had been presented, the liability decision and punitive damages award would have been different.

Hicks’ attorney did not provide an immediate response to a request for comment.

In addition to the jury’s award, the Esphorsts received a $6.5-million settlement from Los Angeles County in 2022. They claimed “gross negligence” on the part of the 911 operator, which they say ultimately led to their son’s death.

Hicks, who fled the scene after the crash, received an 11-year prison sentence. Ming, who stayed at the scene, was sentenced to more than two years in prison and is no longer in custody, according to his attorney.

This verdict provides some support to Jesse Esphorst Jr.’s family as they continue to navigate their lives in the face of this unimaginable tragedy.

The jury’s decision reflects the responsibility placed on 911 operators and the need for them to follow common sense guidelines. The public places immense trust in these operators for assistance and advice, highlighting the importance of their role in emergency situations.

Ultimately, this case serves as a reminder of the devastating consequences that can arise from reckless car chases and the critical role that proper decision-making and guidance play in preventing further tragedies on the roads.