A state appeals court panel Friday upheld the convictions of two motorists involved in a crash in Torrance that killed a 16-year-old high school baseball player and seriously injured his father, but ordered a new sentencing hearing for one of the defendants.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there were numerous errors in the trial of Darryl Leander Hicks Jr. and Tung Ming, who were convicted in connection with the March 7, 2017, crash that took the life of South High School student Jesse Esphorst Jr.
But the appellate court justices ordered Hicks — who is serving an 11-year state prison term — to be re-sentenced as a result of a recent change in state law that limit a trial court judge’s ability to impose an upper-term sentence.
The panel noted in its 41-page ruling that the trial court is “not limited to consideration of the lower, middle or upper term” on the vehicular manslaughter charge against Hicks, but is “entitled to reconsider the full range of sentencing options and impose a lawful sentence consistent with the court’s original and presumably unchanged sentencing goals.”
Hicks, a Los Angeles resident, and Ming, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident, were each convicted in January 2020 of 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, according to Deputy District Attorney Ryan Gould.
Jurors also found true allegations that Hicks fled the scene of the deadly crash.
Ming was sentenced in June 2020 to two years and eight months in state prison, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records indicate he is no longer in custody.
In upholding the convictions of the two, the appellate court panel found that the trial court did not err in excluding and expert testimony about 911 operator policies, protocol and training in handling emergency calls from motorists.
The justices noted that a silver Audi sedan driven by Hicks drove away after striking Ming’s vehicle and that Ming followed the Audi as it accelerated northbound on Crenshaw Boulevard, with both vehicles traveling at 80 to 85 mph.
Ming called 911 to report the hit-and-run crash and told the 911 operator that he was chasing the vehicle, the justices noted, adding that the 911 operator asked for the vehicle’s license plate number, told him to give the number when he was able and to stop chasing the vehicle as soon as he could.
Ming was still on the phone with the 911 operator when Hicks’ Audi struck the front of the victims’ van, causing it to spin nearly 360 degrees, and Ming’s SUV hit the van within seconds, the justices noted.
“The 911 operator was not facing criminal charges, but the presentation of this evidence would have, in effect, put him or her on trial, requiring the jurors to act as a jury in a civil case and assign comparative fault for the collision. The result would have been a trial within a trial, which the trial court properly determined would necessitate an undue consumption of time and would undoubtedly lead to confusion of the issues,” according to the ruling.
Hicks and Ming — the latter of whom was in a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 — had failed to stop at the red light, where the victims’ 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan was turning left from southbound Crenshaw Boulevard to eastbound Crest Road, authorities said.
Hicks fled northbound on Crenshaw and Ming stayed at the scene. Investigators said the Audi was located nearby a short time later, unoccupied.
Ming was arrested that morning, then released later that day on bond. Hicks was arrested two days after the crash, and released a day later on bond.
Both men were ordered to be taken into custody after the jury’s verdict.
The teen and his father had been on their way home after having dinner with the boy’s grandmother, according to baseball coach Grady Sain.
A day after the crash, the team gathered on the diamond around the teen’s shortstop position, and that afternoon, about 750 current and former students, coaches and faculty members filled the South High field in his honor.
The Daily Breeze reported last week that the Los Angeles County Claims Board is recommending that the county Board of Supervisors approve a $6.5 million settlement with the teen’s father to settle a wrongful death lawsuit that names the county. Caltrans, the city of Torrance and Hicks and Ming are also named in the lawsuit, according to the newspaper.