PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Edmund and Pamela Sullivan of Southwest Portland with a photo of their late son, Trevor. For two years they've pursued a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles against the man they claim killed him. The man denies involvement.On the day he died, Trevor Sullivan had been excited, according to his parents. One of four children, the 24-year-old Lakeridge High School graduate was on his own in an exciting new world. Barely a week after moving to Los Angeles to become an actor, the funny and popular skateboard aficionado had started a new job at a sporting goods store and found an apartment. He thought he had a line on a Black Sabbath concert ticket.

At around 9 p.m. Sept. 2, 2013, he died after his motorcycle crashed on an L.A. freeway onramp.

His parents, Edmund and Pam Sullivan of Southwest Portland, have been waging a legal crusade ever since. Their goal: to prove that Trevor’s death was not, as the police concluded, his fault. Instead, they intend to show their son was the victim of a hit and run that California authorities have refused to investigate fully.

Unable to bring criminal charges, they have filed a civil lawsuit for unspecified damages against Yong Sung Kim, the man they believe killed Trevor. The 32-year-old Korean immigrant says his only involvement was to witness the accident and call 911 from the scene. Neither Kim nor his lawyers would talk to the Portland Tribune. In court documents, Kim’s lawyers describe the case against their client as “fantastical and unfounded.”

But two weeks ago, the Sullivans, working without a lawyer, beat back two more efforts to dismiss the case, and are now preparing for a trial in January.

Initial report: ‘hit and run’

When the California Highway Patrol called with the tragic news, Ed and Pam were in shock, grieving.

Ed, however, was also skeptical.

For one thing, the call came 24 hours after Trevor’s death. Why, Ed wondered, had it taken so long? And what happened to Trevor’s phone, which was never recovered?

The police report, when it arrived, raised more questions. The accident occurred at an onramp to Interstate 10, also known as the Santa Monica Freeway. If Yong Sung Kim really had been traveling only two or three car lengths behind Trevor at a speed of 35 mph, as he claimed, how was he able to avoid running over their son or his motorcycle?

Then 911 records arrived, showing that as calls from motorists flowed in about the accident, a dispatcher labeled it a hit and run. One 911 recording is mostly garbled, but in a tantalizing snippet, the dispatcher asks if the caller saw the car that hit Trevor.

Then there’s the testimony of Joe Mendoza, a firefighter paramedic who responded to the crash. In his deposition, Mendoza said that when he arrived, an unidentified man who’d been helping Trevor made a remarkable statement. “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 purported witness was never found.

Another man who responded to the scene, Ashton Proctor, also raised suspicions. In a deposition, Proctor said he drove past the accident on the main freeway, then returned to the scene to find an “Asian guy” acting “weird” at the scene. The man, according to Ashton, repeatedly claimed Trevor flipped the bike on his own, and that nobody hit him. After being contacted by Ed Sullivan months later, Proctor texted back that while he didn’t directly witness the accident, he “felt like the car the Asian guy was driving hit him.”

Finally, cell phone records showed Trevor’s phone kept being turned on and off after his death, and moved around the city. For the Sullivans, it’s clear that he was robbed. Bank records showed Trevor had taken out $300 from an ATM. Though his wallet was recovered, the cash never turned up; nor did any Black Sabbath ticket.

When Trevor’s email provider gave the couple access to his account information, they learned that someone used the phone to delete the account.

Pointing fingers

For the Sullivans, much of the three years since Trevor’s death has been spent fighting with police officials, lawyers and the cell phone company to get every record they can.

They’ve spent $60,000 (much of it borrowed) and strained their marriage, spending most of their waking hours poring through documents and the official timeline, conflicting witness testimony etched into their minds.

The couple has developed an elaborate hypothesis for how Trevor was killed, accusing the California Highway Patrol of concealing evidence and misrepresenting what happened. Pam, whose experience as a paralegal has been invaluable as Ed has acted as lawyer in the case, says there wouldn’t have been a cover-up if they were residents of California.

“I think it would have been a lot harder for them to pull what they did if we were down there,” she says. “You wouldn’t believe this would happen in America.”

In one sense, their reaction is completely normal. Anger, denial and obsessive thinking are common in grieving parents, according to a 2003 report by the Institute of Medicine.

So, considering they have no confirmed eyewitness to back their version, could their lawsuit be the product of a traumatized mental state, a “fantastical” mindset, as Kim’s lawyers have claimed? Could the young, gentle-mannered man they’ve been suing for two years actually be innocent?

Ed dismisses the idea out of hand.

“No,” he says. “All the evidence points to his guilt. There hasn’t been one thing that happened that made me think he was innocent. It just kept building and building, pointing towards him.”

The Oregon connection

One of the things that keeps the Sullivans going is a review of the accident conducted by James Pierce, a former Oregon State Police investigator who specializes in crash reconstruction.

The Sullivans found Pierce and paid him to review photos of the motorcycle, crash location, reports and other evidence. Largely on Kim’s account of the accident to police, the California Highway Patrol had concluded that Trevor had been swerving back and forth and hit a curb while trying to pass an SUV on the on-ramp.

Pierce, however, questioned that version. He cited the pattern of the motorcycle’s skid marks on the pavement, as well as the dents in the bike and the lack of tire damage or markings on the curb that Trevor supposedly hit, all suggesting that “an external object may have contributed to the motorcycle immediately striking the surface” of the road, Pierce wrote in his report. In other words, he felt it more likely Trevor was hit by another vehicle, causing the motorcycle to hit the pavement hard.

Confronting Kim

When Kim’s lawyers deposed Pierce, they grilled him on whether he personally inspected the evidence or interviewed witnesses. He had not, he conceded. But he didn’t reverse himself, either.

On Jan. 22, 2016, more than two years after their son’s death, Ed and Pam finally sat down across a table from the man they’d accused of causing it in their November 2014 lawsuit, for a sworn deposition interview.

Kim wore a wide-set Mohawk, shaved on both sides. In a video recording of the deposition, he comes off as gentle and patient. He says he makes a living by buying Legos and selling them on the Korean version of eBay.

He stresses that he called 911 because he himself had a new son. Right after he pulled over and called to report the accident, he says, he called his wife.

“I just have one first son. So I thought it might be helpful for the family” to call 911, Kim said, his heavy accent and grammar showing that English is not his first language.

In his account of the incident, Kim echoed the version recorded in the police report, saying of Trevor, “I’m sorry to say this, but ... the person who was on the motorcycle looks to me he was kind of drunk. It is not really seems to be normal. So I have to slow down to make a space between him or me.”

The toxicology report on Trevor came back negative. Ed found a friend of his who’d had dinner with him on the night of his death. She said he hadn’t been drinking.

According to Kim, however, Trevor swerved back and forth trying to get around a white SUV, eventually trying to pass it on the left despite there being only one lane. He hit a curb on the median, apparently not seeing it, Kim said.

Trevor wouldn’t have been the first young man on a motorcycle to fall victim to impatience.

What jumps out to Ed, he says, are the contradictions.

Proctor’s passenger and girlfriend, who claimed to have seen the accident while they drove past, said she saw no white SUV — though she saw no collision, either.

Kim’s account of when he left the crash scene and when the ambulance and the police arrived don’t match the official timeline, Ed says.

Ed finds it suspicious that Kim, in his deposition, says the accident occurred at a different on-ramp from where it actually happened, according to witnesses and official reports. Kim says it happened at the Fairfax ramp, not the La Brea ramp.

“I don’t know why they keep claiming (that),” Kim said. “I keep telling you the Fairfax, that is the freeway entrance.”

In the deposition, Ed asked Kim to walk him through the sequence of events, and the route he took to get to the scene, his work history, you name it.

“Honestly, it is getting on the point of being ridiculous, the kinds of questions you’re asking,” said Kim’s lawyer, Michael D’Andrea.

At one point in the deposition, Kim says he pulled over after Trevor hit the pavement because he didn’t want to “hit him again.”

Ed has seized this statement as suggesting Kim had hit Trevor with his car.

Considering his poor mastery of English vocabulary and grammar, Kim’s testimony could easily be written off to the language barrier. In fact, at one point Ed stated that there seemed to be a language barrier.

But Kim’s lawyer, D’Andrea, shot back to Ed that “The only one that thinks there is a language barrier is you.”

Earlier this month, the Sullivans finally found a lawyer, Michael Kolodzi of Beverly Hills, to represent them as they head toward a Jan. 9 trial date in L.A. Kolodzi says he was moved by their case.

He’s impressed that they made it through the past year, with no lawyer, but “in order to properly put on a wrongful death jury trial they need effective counsel,” he says. “I want to make sure they get their day in court.”