The parents of six suspected graffiti vandals and a friend killed in a freeway accident near the City of Commerce last year have filed an $80-million suit against the state, saying there was a structural flaw in the highway.
State attorneys were sardonic about the suit, which also seeks damages from the suspected drunk driver who struck the pickup truck, from the owner of the truck, from its driver and from the manufacturer.
"Apparently, some of the people (who were killed) spent their time destroying public property, which cost the taxpayers lots of money to repair, and now they're asking the taxpayers for $80 million more," said Christopher Hiddleson, a Department of Transportation lawyer handling the state's defense.
"That just doesn't seem right."
The attorney for the parents of the dead youths, Gregory James Owen, said the victims' background is irrelevant to the merits of the lawsuit.
"It sounds like if you're labeled a tagger you get whatever you deserve," Owen said. "What does that have to do with the fact that they were in an awful accident where people died and were maimed?"
On July 2, 1993, nine people whose ages ranged from 14 to 20 were in a 1988 Mitsubishi Mighty Max on their way back to the San Gabriel Valley after a night in Redondo Beach. Six of them were riding in the rear bay of the truck and none were wearing seat belts, according to accident investigators.
Friends and California Highway Patrol investigators said most of the passengers were members of a tagging crew that called itself FBI, known varyingly as Far Beyond Insanity, Far Beyond Imagination and Fully Brown and Insane. Spray paint cans were found in the wreckage.
The victims' friends said they had not been tagging that night, and that they were easing out of the tagging lifestyle.
A little past midnight on the Long Beach Freeway the pickup was hit by a Chevy Camaro driven by Sarkis Peltekian, who police said was drunk. The pickup was knocked off the freeway and plummeted more than 100 feet to a railroad track below.
Only the driver of the loaned Mitsubishi, Pedro Hidalgo Jr., 20, and a friend in the passenger seat survived.
Owen said the 1988 Mighty Max has a defect that causes it to roll over.
He said other lawsuits have been filed by survivors of roll-over accidents, a claim denied by a Mitsubishi spokesman.
Owen said the truck rolled over the barrier at the side of the freeway after hitting a berm, or elevated piece of concrete at the side of the freeway that Owen said was in violation of California codes. Hiddleson said the alleged violation never existed.
"There's no berm there," he said, saying the freeway is bounded by a standard barrier.