Preliminary Hearing Begins in Brian Surewood Case

VAN NUYS - About the only thing that everyone seemed to be able to agree upon on the first day of the preliminary hearing of Brian Surewood and Armando Ayon on charges of murder, vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving was that, on October 9, 2007, Ayon's new Nissan Maxima hit a parked silver Daewoo sedan on Sherman Way near Amestoy, bounced off it and careened across the westbound lanes and wound up on the center median.

But while no one actually saw it happen, no one disputed the fact that Syeda Arif was at the trunk of her Honda Civic, holding her baby daughter, when Ayon slammed into the Daewoo, forcing that car into the rear of the Civic and throwing Arif, her daughter and 5-year-old son onto a lawn on the north side of the street, killing the son and causing several injuries to Arif and her daughter. The baby has remained in intensive care since the accident.

All of the above was adduced earlier today in Courtroom 120 at the Van Nuys Superior Courthouse, before Judge Leslie A. Dunn, presiding over one of the highest profile cases in recent local history - so high profile, in fact, that a documentary filmmaker was present to capture the proceedings on videotape.

Syeda Arif was the first to testify, from her wheelchair and through an interpreter, as prosecutor James Falco took her through what she could remember of the accident and its aftermath - which wasn't much, since Arif was rendered unconscious at the scene. Her injuries included the loss of her left leg, a broken right kneecap, fractured pelvis and damage to some internal organs.

Falco also presented four eyewitnesses to various parts of the events, including Laura Beck and her son Michael, who were driving behind Ayon's black Maxima and Surewood's red Camaro, which she described as "fighting" with each other as they allegedly cut in and out of traffic across Sherman Way's three traveling lanes, going "about 50." At one point, she said, Surewood's car wound up in front of Ayon's, and although she said she didn't see brake lights, Mrs. Beck claimed that Surewood stopped abruptly in the curb lane, and that Ayon swerved into the parked cars possibly in an attempt to avoid a rear-end collision with the Camaro. That also was the last Mrs. Beck saw of the Camaro.

However, when Ayon's attorney, Howard R. Levine, took Mrs. Beck back through her version of the accident, several discrepancies arose. For instance, although Mrs. Beck said she had been about a car length behind the Maxima when it swerved into the parked cars and that she changed lanes just as the Camaro stopped, that she was "right parallel with" the Camaro - that is, in front of the Maxima - when it hit the Daewoo. In later questioning by Surewood's attorney, Peter Korn, she placed the accident east of Amestoy Ave., though when her memory was refreshed by referring to the police report, she recalled that the accident occurred just after the Amestoy intersection. Korn also brought out testimony that the Maxima was 40 feet behind Beck when it hit the median, though she testified that she had been proceeding at about 35 miles per hour and hadn't been speeding.

Michael Beck's testimony didn't help matters much, and since all of the witnesses had been sequestered from the courtroom except the one on the witness stand, he hadn't been privy to his mother's version of the events. So when Korn asked him whether he had seen the accident occur, he said that he had - by looking in the passenger's sideview mirror, thereby indicating that the accident had happened after his car had passed the point of impact.

The prosecution's next witness, Porter Miles, said he had seen the Maxima pull into the curb lane behind the Camaro, and had then seen the Camaro "tap" its brakes, then come to a full stop, all in his rearview mirror. At the time, he said, the Maxima was following "real close" to the Camaro, and was "on his bumper." He also said after the impact, the Maxima had careened across the roadway in front of him before coming to rest on the median.

Miles also testified that he had followed the Camaro after it had left the scene of the accident, but that it had stopped several hundred feet down the road, and that upon pulling alongside the Camaro, Miles had exclaimed to Surewood, "Why the fuck did you do that?" - meaning leave the scene of the accident.

For his part, Surewood has claimed that he had nothing to do with the accident; that Ayon had simply lost control of his car after Surewood was some distance in front of him, and that Surewood only became aware of the accident when he was further down the road. Surewood is also on record as having placed a 911 call regarding the accident he witnessed, although he did not turn himself into police until later that day.

The prosecution's final eyewitness was Roger Cook, who said that about two blocks before the accident, he had seen the Maxima and the Camaro both pass him going about 55 miles per hour, but that he didn't see the collision itself. He also said he had told police that he "could not see if it was a drag race," and when Levine refreshed his recollection by showing him the police report, Cook remembered that he had told the police that the pair were not in fact racing.

The final witness of the day was Detective Dagoberto Espino, a traffic collision investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department who had arrived on the scene approximately 20 minutes after the accident occurred, and had taken statements from some witnesses and observed tire marks on the roadway. He reiterated some of the prior witnesses' testimony, and had decided that the Camaro had been going at an "unsafe speed for conditions" and had engaged in "unsafe lane changing." Levine emphasized that Espino's report had found Surewood at fault for the accident, but that the Maxima had also been going at an unsafe speed - which Espino hastened to add did not mean that the cars necessarily were speeding; just that they were driving too fast for conditions - and that it had been following at an unsafe distance." However, Espino admitted that he had not consulted with a police accident reconstructionist, nor had he done or read any surveys regarding the average speeds traveled in that section of Sherman Way.

When it came his turn to cross-examine, Corn brought out that although Espino had written that Surewood had made an unsafe lane change in front of the Maxima, and that Espino had based that conclusion on statements made by Porter Miles, Korn showed Espino Miles' statement, which said nothing about the alleged unsafe lane change. Espino was then forced to admit that no witness had told him about an unsafe lane change, but that he had deduced that scenario by examining the "fresh, dark" tire marks on the roadway at the scene. However, Espino said he never compared those marks to the tires on Surewood's vehicle, and that he didn't know if the Camaro had been fitted with anti-lock brakes - and that he "wasn't trained" to conduct such an investigation. He did know, though, that cars equipped with anti-lock brakes leave light or no skid marks when the brakes are applied with force - but reiterated that the Camaro had been traveling at an unsafe speed, even though he couldn't tell just what speed that was.

The hearing was adjourned at about 4:15 p.m., and will reconvene on May 14. Although neither defendant was allowed to communicate with spectators in the audience, several of Surewood's friends and relatives had been present for the hearing, including Surewood's mother, his brother Brad, director David Aaron Clark, actor/director Valentino, and attorney Michael Fattorosi.