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Jury awards family $7.4M in fatal crash
September 03, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
The Redwood City driver whose vehicular manslaughter conviction for killing an 8-year-old girl in an alleged drunken crash overturned earlier this year was ordered by a civil jury to pay her family more than $7 million in damages.

However, defendant Richard Tom is headed back to court in late September to have subtracted from those compensatory damages the $147,888.32 his insurance already paid out to cover the girl’s funeral and medical expenses incurred by the girl’s mother and sister in the same crash.

In mid-August, a jury found Tom, 50, liable in the Feb. 19, 2007 death of Sydney Ng and the injury of mother Lorraine Wong and Sydney’s then-10-year-old sister. Tom was ordered to pay $7,355,760.63 in compensatory damages. Court notes state the family indicated prior to trial its intent to give any favorable judgment to charity.

The suit filed in 2007 claimed wrongful death, personal injury, negligent infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. Tom, according to the complaint, acted in a manner that was "despicable and malicious” with a conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Wong’s attorney Emily Wecht did not reply to an inquiry for comment. Neither did Tom’s attorney Paul Scheley.

The civil jury’s decision Aug. 16 will have no bearing on Tom’s criminal case which is currently awaiting a decision on whether he will be retried. Tom was sentenced to seven years in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter and causing great bodily injury but an appellate court this year overturned the 2009 conviction because it said the prosecutor violated his rights when she told jurors he proved himself guilty by not asking about the welfare of the other car’s occupants. The Attorney General’s Office challenged the reversal and the California Supreme Court agreed to review whether Tom’s right against self-incrimination was violated with her argument that his silence was "substantive evidence of guilt.”

Written arguments are due in mid-September.

Tom’s appellate attorney Marc Zilversmit said he is confident of prevailing before the court because the attorney general’s position puts any motorist in a car accident in the "absurd” position of looking guilty either because they ask about the welfare or because they don’t. Zilversmit said his client’s case also has a number of other issues such as prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective counsel that should be addressed.

Prosecutors and civil attorneys said Tom broadsided the Ng family’s Nissan Maxima with his 2006 Mercedes Benz just after 8 p.m. as it made its way across Woodside Road on Santa Clara Avenue, killing Ng and hospitalizing the two others. Wong suffered a fractured rib, hip injuries and facial burns and bruises. Her daughter broke and arm and had cuts on her face.

Hours after the crash, Tom’s alcohol level measured .04 percent. Using scientific rates of alcohol processing, the prosecution contended Tom was over the legal limit at the time of the accident. However, the jury acquitted Tom of gross vehicular manslaughter due to intoxication and driving while under the influence.

During his trial, Tom was originally free from custody but taken back in when the alcohol-monitoring bracelet required by his bail indicated the presence of alcohol and it appeared Tom wrapped the monitor in saran wrap. After his conviction was overturned, Tom was granted $300,000 bail while waiting to learn if he’ll be retried and is free from custody.

Tom also filed a civil cross complaint against Wong, claiming she negligently collided into his vehicle while he lawfully drove.


Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.


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