A longtime friend of two 25-year-old men who died in a fiery traffic collision in Koreatown in 2016 testified Monday that the driver accused of causing the crash did nothing to help the victims and fled the scene, saying that he had to leave because he was driving on a suspended license.
David Malakian, 29, of Valley Village, was the first witness in the non-jury trial of a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit stemming from the deaths of Araik Yegiazaryan and Marten Garibkhanyan, who burned to death in the back seat of a car allegedly driven by Arsen Akopyan, who later fled to Armenia after being charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run driving, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges Akopyan, now 38, was intoxicated at the time and had a prior history of drinking while driving.
The plaintiffs are Garibkhangyan’s parents, Edvard Garibkhangyan and Hasmik Harutyunyan, and Yegiazaryan’s mother, Olga Yegiazaryan.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2017 and is being tried without a jury before Judge Stephanie Bowick. Akopyan is not present and has not hired an attorney or summoned any witnesses on his behalf. The judge said she is satisfied he was given sufficient notice of the trial.
According to Malakian, he and the victims, all Burbank High School graduates, used a ride-hailing service to go to a Koreatown barbecue restaurant the night of Oct. 14, 2016, to celebrate Yegiazaryan’s 25th birthday. They later were put in touch with Akopyan, who was at a nearby karaoke bar, and he invited them to join him, Malakian said.
Malakian said he and the others again took a ride-hailing service to get to the karaoke bar and met Akopyan and his friend.
“They were drunk,” Malakian said.
When the bar closed, Akopyan insisted Malakian and his companions join him at his nearby residence for a nightcap, according to the witness, who testified that he and his friends once again planned to use a ride-hailing service, but that Akopyan insisted on driving.
Malakian said he, Yegiazaryan, Garibkhanyan and a fourth man got into the back seat of a silver Audi and a sixth man sat in the right front passenger seat. He said Akopyan initially proceeded cautiously, but things changed when he reached Third Street and began driving west.
“He got reckless,” Malakian alleged. “He started speeding and running red lights.”
Akopyan drove close to 100 mph and avoided collisions during the first and second signals, but not when he reached the third, Malakian testified. A car traveling north on Wilton Place collided with the Audi, which spun and crashed into a wall before bursting into flames, he said.
Malakian said he was able to get out of the car and helped remove two other passengers, but that he could not assist Yegiazaryan and Garibkhanyan, saying of the latter, “I kind of realized he was no longer with us.”
Bystanders warned Malakian to step away from the car before it blew up, he said.
Akopyan did nothing to help, telling Malakian, “I need to go, I have a suspended license,” the witness said.
Malakian said his injuries included a separated right shoulder and third-degree burns to his left shoulder and the back of his neck.
Malakian described Garibkhanyan as an “awesome person” and Yegiazaryan as someone with a bright future in web development.
The second trial witness was the mother of Yegiazaryan. Olga Yegiazaryan, a 61-year-old Russian emigre, struggled to maintain her composure as she recalled her son, who was always smiling and had plans to marry his girlfriend. She said that although she never liked tattoos, she now has one in his honor on her left wrist.
Garibkhanyan’s mother, Hasmik Harutyunyan, also wept often as the 55-year-old Iranian emigre, who is divorced from her son’s father, testified that she visits her offspring’s grave daily at the cemetery and still struggles to deal with what happened to him.
The day before he died, Garibkhanyan told his mother, “I’m going to take you somewhere, mom,” Harutyunyan said.
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