SAN LUIS OBISPO (CN) - Three generations of a family sued a tour business for an off-road collision with a Hummer that left an 8-year-old girl with severe brain and spinal injuries.
Emma Owston was riding with her grandfather, Dean Owston, in a 2010 Polaris Razor at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area, formerly known as Pismo Beach, on April 17, 2010. They were climbing a sand dune when a 1985 Hummer in front of them "suddenly reversed down the dune at an exceedingly high, grossly improper and extremely unsafe speed for the conditions and ... violently collided with plaintiffs' vehicle," according to the complaint in Superior Court.
Emma's father, Matt Owston, was riding his own ATV nearby and watched in horror.
"I thought I had watched my daughter die," Matt Owston told Shiners Hospitals for Children, which treated Emma. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken clavicle, chest laceration, spinal injury and complex open fractures to the tibia and fibia in her right leg.
The Owstons sued Pacific Adventure Tours, Xtreme Hummer Adventures, Larry Hass and David Maltone on April 14. Maltone was driving the Xtreme Hummer; Hass operates the business.
The 1985 Hummer was mostly used for military purposes. The turbo-powered, fuel-injected, V8, 6,500-cc engine produces 195 horsepower for the nearly 4-ton vehicle.
The Owstons says in the complaint that Maltone was driving recklessly, and that the company markets itself using phrases such as "Get wild Hummer style!" and "Fly over the top of dunes, hang sideways and even climb backwards."
Hass said in a telephone interview that it was a terrible accident, but his driver was not at fault. The accident occurred two years ago, he said, and the plaintiffs keep getting new lawyers and his insurance company will not settle. He said a re-enactment of the crash showed what happened.
"The grandfather came up behind the Hummer while it was backing down and ran into the back of the Hummer," Hass said. "Luckily, he just hit a corner, rather than fully in the back. It's an 8,000-pound vehicle."
When riding the dunes, Hass said, the rule of thumb is stay out of the way of other vehicles. "If I see another vehicle on a sand dune out there, I avoid it all costs," he said.
News reports show that on average more than 1 person is killed every year in an accident at the park. Four people were killed in 2015.
The biggest problem in this accident, Hass said, is that the Polaris Razor is not safe for small children.
"There is a sticker in the Polaris that no child under 11 should be sitting in that seat," he said.
Indeed, the 2010 Owners Manual for the Polaris Razor, which can be found online, states: "Never operate with a passenger under the age of 12. Make sure any passenger is tall enough to comfortably and safely reach the hand holds and place both feet on the floor."
Hass said the Razor's seat belts had been altered to accommodate the girl - and that there is a report that the grandfather had been drinking.
"Then, after the accident, the dad transported the daughter by himself in a dune buggy across the dunes instead of waiting for the ambulance," Hass said.
The family is from Roseville, where Owston works as a firefighter. According to Shriners Hospitals for Children, "Matt was able to extricate his daughter from the wreckage and transport her to the beach several miles away. From there, emergency responders transported Emma to the nearest hospital, where doctors quickly arranged for Emma to go to a level one trauma center."
Emma Owston is walking again, according to the Shiners Hospitals for Children story, and continues to get care.
"It's a terrible situation," Hass said. "But accidents are accidents."
Emma and Matthew Owston are represented by Kevin Boyle with Panish, Shea & Boyle in Los Angeles, who declined comment. Dean Owston is represented by Justin Gingery with Dreyer, Babich, Buccola, Wood & Campora in Sacramento.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area, whose managers are not involved in this case, has been the subject of numerous lawsuitsover vehicle access and environmental regulation of it.
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