Sitting side by side in orange jumpsuits at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, Van Nuys, yesterday, Brian Barnes (aka Brian Surewood) and Armando Ayon listened to the testimony of six prosecution witnesses in their second degree murder trial for the car crash death of four-year-old Ayman Arif.
On October 9, 2007, Barnes was driving along Sherman Way in Van Nuys, returning from filming a scene he’d performed in for the porn company Vouyer Media. At a stop light, sources close to Barnes say, he and Ayon began racing their cars when Ayon heckled Barnes, saying he looked like a pirate.
Barnes (seen behind the wheel of his Camaro in better times with his dog, Rex) allegedly responded that yes, he did look like a pirate.
The first witness was Syeda Arif, wheelchair-bound and speaking through an interpreter (she is a recent immigrant from Pakistan). Arif was standing by the trunk of her car and holding two-month-old daughter Ikra when, witnesses agree, Ayon’s car slammed into the parked car behind her, which then struck Arif and sent her, her daughter, and Ayman, who had been standing nearby, onto the grassy area of Sherman Way abutting the sidewalk.
“She was very stoic through her testimony,” said Barnes’ friend, director David Aaron Clark. “Brian stared at her and started crying.”
Ayman and his younger sister were airlifted from the area immediately, and the boy died the next day. His sister has been in and out of intensive care and now carries a shunt in her skull to drain fluid and relieve pressure. Their mother lost her left leg, among other injuries.
The main issue yesterday, the first of two Discovery days held to gather evidence, was not whether the men were racing each other (that was not disputed), or which driver directly caused the Arif family’s injuries, but whether or not Barnes’ driving caused Ayon to lose control of his vehicle.
Sherman Way west of Amestoy and east of Lucille is, as you can see from the picture above, a three-lane road. The lane closest to the sidewalk is also used as a parking lane in many areas, and this is where Syeda Arif was standing when the accident occurred, behind the second car in a row of three. The police report said that the collision knocked the last car into Arif’s vehicle, which then hit the vehicle in front of it.
Peter Korn, Barnes’ attorney, cross-examined LAPD traffic collision expert Detective Dagoberto Espino, who arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the accident.
Espino’s report indicated that a skid mark on Sherman Way belonged to Barnes’ Camaro, and inferred that Barnes’ had cut off Ayon and slowed down just beyond north/south street Amestoy, thus forcing Ayon’s Maxima into the lane of parked cars on the north side of the street.
Korn asked if the tire mark had been matched to Barnes’ Camaro, but Espino said that it hadn’t, that determining that was not part of his duties. Korn also asked Espino if he was aware that Barnes’ Camaro had anti-lock brakes, thus making it difficult for that car to have caused a skid mark. Espino said he was not aware of that.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” Miles testified he told Barnes, who had stopped to call 911. Miles said that was all he said to Barnes before he, Miles, returned to the accident scene, where Ayon’s Maxima was perched on the median of the east/west road, having crossed two lanes after striking the car behind the Arifs.
According to sources close to Barnes, Barnes said that Miles also told him to “get the fuck out of here.” Clark said that that Miles appeared proud of the fact that he knew Ayon’s car was “a 4.3″ (liter) Maxima and that he was familiar with “high performance vehicles.”
Miles testified that, from his rear-view mirror, he saw Barnes tap his brakes in front of Ayon’s vehicle.
Barnes and Ayon are charged with the same things but Barnes has three additional charges of leaving the scene of an accident (one for each victim) because he returned to his Northridge apartment, where he saw the accident footage on the news. Barnes then turned himself in to police.
Eyewitness Roger Cook was passed by the two cars about two blocks before the collision site, and said at the time they were going about 55 miles an hour and “racing.” He also said that Ayon, who sustained minor injuries in the crash, made a call on his cell phone, resulting in the arrival of various friends who removed things from Ayon’s car. Cook did not testify what those items were.
Barnes and Ayon are being held in protective custody at the Men’s Wing of the L.A. County Jail in downtown Los Angeles.. Two additional witnesses, Armenian Americans excused to take part in events commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide, will testify when the case resumes on May 14.
UPDATE: I visited the accident scene and Ayman Arif’s school less than a mile away. Arif’s tree is planted in a quiet garden away from the recess yard.
Previously: Surewood pleads not guilty as murder case continues
See also: Ayman Foundation