Parents' three-year quest to uncover details of son's death in LA heads for trial
Its been three years since their 24-year-old son died, but Edmund and Pamela Sullivan scarcely have had time to grieve. Theyve been too busy waging a single-minded battle to get to the bottom of his death.
On Sept. 3, 2013, the Portland couple got the call that every parent dreads. Their son Trevor had died after losing control of his motorcycle on a Los Angeles freeway.
Not until two weeks later did Ed realize that some little things didnt seem to add up.
The California Highway Patrol told them no other vehicle was involved that Trevor had hit the side of an onramp and then crashed.
But some witness accounts didnt make sense. And as the Sullivans learned later, initial police, fire and hospital reports described the accident as a hit and run.
Even more puzzling, bank records show that Trevor had just withdrawn $300, but that money was never found. And phone records the couple obtained suggest his cell phone, which was never found at the scene, was repeatedly turned on and off in the days after Trevors death.
Questions led to more questions, which then led to theories.
Rapidly, the Sullivans say, they started to put the puzzle together. Not only did they become convinced that Trevor had been struck by a driver, they also had a strong suspicion of who that driver was: Yong Sung Kim, then a 29-year-old who moved to the United States from Korea at age 15.
Contacted by the Portland Tribune, Kim repeatedly declined to comment on the case, referring questions to his attorneys. Told they had not responded to calls or emails, he said, Sorry about that.
Individuals do not have the power to bring criminal charges, but they can bring civil cases to recoup losses. Thats what the Sullivans did in November 2014, asking for unspecified damages and alleging wrongful death.
In motions, Kims lawyers said the Sullivans theory was unfounded and fantastical. ... Kim had nothing to do with decedents fatal accident and (Ed Sullivan) has proffered no evidence to the contrary.
But last Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to toss out the Sullivans civil case and set a trial date for Jan. 9.
The Sullivans long-distance court case is unusual not only in its allegations but in the fact that theyve had little help. For the past year, the couple has had no lawyer.
Pamela Sullivan is a former paralegal worker and her husband is a building contractor by trade.
Its amazing that anybody could (represent themselves) this far and be ready for trial, says Curtis Edmondson, a Hillsboro patent lawyer who has spoken with the family about their case. Im impressed by what a good job theyve done.
The couple has invested countless hours Ed estimates 6,000 on their efforts to piece together Trevors final moments of life. Theyve spent more than $60,000 pursuing the case, much of it borrowed from friends and relatives.
They no longer have paying jobs. Their Southwest Portland home lies unfinished, remodeling plans on hold, boxes and stacks of police documents, cell phone records and depositions scattered about.
We havent gone on vacation; we havent been anywhere, Sullivan says.
Anywhere but California, that is. Theyve confronted top California Highway Patrol officials in Sacramento and have flown back and forth to Los Angeles to face off with high-priced lawyers, while conducting sworn deposition interviews of witnesses, paramedics, firefighters and police 19 of them so far.
Pamelas paralegal training has been a huge help. And so has the ability to do much of their research online. Californias rules for civil trials are all there on the internet, so we just started studying, Ed says.
Trevor grew up in Lake Oswego, one of four Sullivan children. Friends remember him as full of life, humor and positivity. YouTube is home to several videos featuring him skateboarding in Tualatin or yukking it up with pals. In one, hes shown puffing on a cigarette while filming another skateboarders stunts, narrating and muttering quotes from Forrest Gump, and delivering Beavis-like metal riffs with charisma, self-possession and comedic timing, sort of a younger-generation Bill Murray.
Several videos online are dedicated to him, including one advertising a skateboarding event set up in his memory at the Commonwealth Skateboarding park in Southeast Portland.
Friends have posted countless comments on his Facebook page in the years after his death, keeping Sullivan apprised of happenings in the lives of his friends and relatives. Six months after his death, a friend named Valerie wrote Happy birthday to literally the most interesting man who will ever walk this planet.
Moving to L.A.
In late August 2013, barely a week before his death, the Lake Oswego High School graduate set out for Los Angeles, his skateboard strapped to his motorcycle, intent on seeking a career in acting. He started a job at a Santa Monica sporting goods store and found an apartment.
At about 9 p.m. Sept. 2, the 911 dispatch center for the California Highway Patrol started getting calls about a motorcyclist whod had an accident on an onramp to Interstate 10 west of La Brea Avenue.
It was not until about 9:30 p.m. the following night that Ed heard about it, getting a call from the CHPs investigating officer. The officer indicated the accident was Sullivans fault, Ed recalls.
CHP had launched an investigation that would list one witness as saying Trevor was swerving from side to side trying to pass a white SUV, and didnt appear to notice the median curb before running into it.
The name of that witness: Yong Sung Kim, the man who Ed eventually would sue.
According to a subsequent narrative prepared by the CHP on Sept. 10, 2013, Ed immediately appears to cast doubt on any notion that his son caused his own death. According to the reports narrative, Ed said his son didnt drink and would never speed or drive erratic (sic).
In mid-September, Ed and Pam finally were able to purchase from the CHP a copy of the report documenting their sons death.
That sparked more questions. The police summary of Kims statement immediately jumped out, Ed says.
Kim, according to the CHP report, describes following two to three car lengths behind Sullivan, as the motorcyclist swerved side to side while traveling 35 mph, trying to pass the white SUV. Sullivan crashed into a curb and was ejected. Kim pulled over safely a few feet away from Sullivan, rushed to his side, then called 911, according to the police report.
However, the only other witness listed by CHP as seeing the accident told police she saw no SUV or any other vehicles.
The report concludes Sullivan caused the accident that killed him, by committing an unsafe turning movement.
After months of calls down to California and countless hours requesting and reviewing documents associated with the crash, Ed concluded the CHP was withholding evidence that Trevor was hit by another vehicle.
The 911 dispatch log showed the call was initially listed as a hit and run. And Cedars-Sinai hospital, where Sullivan was treated, did the same.
Other witnesses weigh in
As Ed began reaching out to witnesses, he eventually started getting texts from Ashton Proctor, who was driving a car on the freeway when the accident happened. According to his subsequent deposition, Proctor said an Asian guy had been acting weird at the scene, repeatedly saying Sullivan flipped the bike on his own, and that nobody hit him. Proctor texted Ed that while he didnt actually witness any collision, he felt like the car the Asian guy was driving hit him.
It was a gut instinct call, Proctor told Kims lawyers. Im entitled to my opinion.
Proctor believes the Asian guy was driving a white sedan, he said in the deposition.
Firefighter paramedic Joe Mendoza, formerly a dispatcher, was among the first to respond. He said in a separate deposition that the 911 code dispatched about Sullivans accident typically means that an auto hit something ... So I know the auto is involved.
One of the mysterious figures in the case is an African-American man dressed in some sort of uniform, described as an off-duty paramedic, or maybe just a guy holding Sullivans helmet steady to stabilize him.
Mendoza told Ed he spoke to the man, an account he repeated in his deposition this January
I believe he said he saw the whole thing, and I believe he said he saw him being hit by a car, Mendoza stated in his deposition.
The problem for the Sullivans is that its not enough to prove in court that their son was hit by a car. They have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that a man who claims he came to their sons aid actually killed him.
NEXT: The case against
Yong Sung Kim.