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Doctor Awarded $14 Million in Freeway Crash

September 16, 1993|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — A Superior Court jury awarded a $14-million judgment Monday to a Culver City physician whose husband and mother were killed when a truckload of hot asphalt slammed into their car on the Santa Monica Freeway.

The deaths of Henry White, 41, and Honorata Pascua, 79, came on the afternoon of March 30, 1990, when the driver of the asphalt truck lost control of his vehicle after another car got a flat tire and banged into the side of his rear trailer.

Swerving across four lanes of westbound traffic near the San Pedro Street off-ramp near Downtown Los Angeles, the driver managed to keep the cab of his vehicle away from the center divider, witnesses said.

But a metal box containing 12 tons of 300-degree asphalt broke free from the rear trailer and skidded for 180 feet before it crushed the eastbound car carrying Dr. Luzviminda Pascua White, who was asleep in the passenger seat.

Her husband, who was driving, and her mother, who was in the back seat, were both killed, apparently by the initial impact, but they were also burned by the fire that broke out when the asphalt came in contact with the car's interior.

Dr. White suffered extensive burns and a head injury, according to her attorney, John C. Taylor. An additional $166,000 was awarded to four people who suffered lesser injuries in another vehicle.

Taylor said that Highway Patrol investigators later found that the truck had bad brakes and a loose steering mechanism.

The Santa Monica Superior Court jury assigned 30% of the fault to Gevorg Sarkisyan, owner and operator of the truck, 50% to the Industrial Asphalt Co., which hired Sarkisyan to deliver the load, and 20% to the driver of the car with the flat tire.

"The jury was very concerned about the hauling of the asphalt, and wanted to send a message to Industrial Asphalt . . . hoping they'll take responsibility for maintaining and inspecting these trucks and not letting these trucks back on the road with crummy equipment," Taylor said.

"(Dr. White's) biggest hope is that no one else has to go through what she has gone through," he said.

Paul Stanford, general counsel of Industrial Asphalt, said he expects the defendants' insurance companies to appeal the verdict. The trucker was not a company employee, he noted.

"It was just a very tragic accident, and the jury apparently felt that the company had some responsibility or some ability to control the trucker, and so there was a judgment against the company as well, but I don't think the evidence supports the verdict," he said.

"It's one of these really unfortunate situations where you have an accident and somebody has determined that somebody is going to pay," he said. "In this case, it looks as if our insurers may pay."

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