LOS ANGELES – The son of a Lancaster man who died in a 2012 rollover crash after a tire blowout testified Friday that he was unaware his father had not survived the accident until he woke up in a hospital.
“I woke up and there were one or two nurses around,” said Daniel Akins, who along with his mother and sister are suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. “I thought he was still alive and I asked where he was. They told me he didn’t make it.”
Akins, 27, said his immediate reaction as he heard the news at Kern County Medical Center in Bakersfield was denial.
“I couldn’t get the words out, but I wanted to tell them it (their statement) was a mistake,” Akins said.
Akins, his 61-year-old mother, Diann Akins, and 31-year-old sister, Esther Pollnow, allege the employees at a Walmart store in Lancaster store should have inspected the 20-year-old spare tire when Diann Akins bought four new tires for her son as a Christmas gift in December 2009.
The spare tire failed when Akins lost control of his 1990 Jeep Cherokee on state Highway 58 on July 24, 2012, about 68 miles from the family’s home, ejecting and killing his 55-year-old father, William.
The two were headed on a Father’s Day camping trip to Kings Canyon National Park. Akins said he put the spare on the left rear of the Jeep after the tire there began losing air shortly before the trip.
The family’s lawyers say the spare tire’s age could easily be determined by coding on the tire. But Wal-Mart lawyers maintain that government and tire industry representatives generally agree that tires need not be replaced based on age alone. They also say there is no evidence to support Diann Akins’s claim that she asked Walmart employees to keep the best tire as the spare.
Akins said he did not immediately know what was happening when he began to lose control of the Jeep before it rolled down an embankment.
“I heard a lot of noise and the car started to pull to the left,” Akins said. “It seemed to be like a fairly violent experience.”
Akins said he also felt “shuddering” from the rear of the Jeep. Wanting to avoid colliding with the tall median wall, Akins said he tried to steer back into the right lane.
“I felt like I wasn’t in control of the car,” he said.
Akins said his injuries included a deep gash on top of his head. He said he also temporarily wore a neck brace and was off work from Starbucks for three to four months.
“It took a while to realize how severe the nerve damage was,” Akins said, adding that he still has pain in both knees.
Diann Akins fought back tears as she recalled how excited her husband was that their son was taking him camping.
“It was a belated Father’s Day trip,” she said.
The morning that father and son departed, both were in a leisurely mood and the elder Akins was singing “Oh Danny Boy,” she testified.
She said she was on a computer looking at home improvement store websites later that day when her cell phone rang. She said she did not recognize the number from the hospital.
“Your son has been in an accident,” she said someone on the phone told her.
She said she asked to speak to her husband, but was passed more than once to another person and was finally given an address to the hospital. She got into her car and drove to Bakersfield, where she was met at the hospital by a doctor and nurse who asked her to follow them.
She said that when she reached the emergency room, she found her injured son, who apologized to her for the accident and asked her not to leave.
A hospital chaplain later told her in a hallway that her husband had died.
“I found out he was in the morgue in the other side of the hospital,” she said, testifying that her emotions overtook her.
“I remember waking up in a gurney,” she said.