Six killed: PCVA partners Cochran, Hastings file wrongful death suit against state, city in crash that left six dead

By Darrell Cochran Law

The six victims that have been identified from the fatal crash on State Route 509 and Alexander Avenue Sunday are seen here (from clockwise): Cerra Corner, Lisa Esparza, Erick Tsosie, Felix Y Begay, Javan Runnels and Calsie Sockyma.

The parents of a young woman killed in a horrific Tacoma crash that left six dead including their 19-year-old daughter Cerra Corner have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and state, arguing that officials failed to address known safety issues at the intersection.


The lawsuit alleges that the intersection of State Route 509 and Alexander Avenue East in Tacoma, Washington, has long been recognized as hazardous due to frequent red-light violations. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), over 100 crashes were recorded at this intersection in a six-year period leading up to 2020. A report published by WSDOT in May 2020 highlighted the persistent problem of red-light running and recommended the consideration of a roundabout to improve safety and reduce accidents.

First responders investigate a crash that left six dead and three others injured July 16, 2023, in Tacoma. (Luke Johnson / The Seattle Times

First responders investigate a crash that left six dead and three others injured July 16, 2023, in Tacoma. (Luke Johnson / The Seattle Times)

PCVA Founding Partner Darrell Cochran, representing the Corner family, emphasized the failings of government officials that led directly to Cerra’s death. “The more a government entity knows about the danger of an intersection, the more it has responsibility to do something,” Cochran stated. “The Department of Transportation had so much information and so much advanced warning. I feel confident that they are going to realize once they get into this lawsuit that they are going to be found negligent by a jury and that they will take responsible action both in terms of fixing the intersection and accepting responsibility for what they did to Cerra.”


The crash happened on July 16, 2023. the deadliest in over two decades in Washington occurred at this intersection. The victims, six young people from Arizona, were in Tacoma for an Amway convention. They were traveling in a Kia Forte when a driver in a BMW SUV ran a red light and plowed into the car with Cerra in the backseat. The BMW, driven by Vitaliy Papirnik, was reportedly speeding at the time of the collision, with vehicle data indicating a speed of 80 mph just five seconds before the impact.

The lawsuit details how WSDOT, the city of Tacoma, and the Port of Tacoma were aware of the risks but did not take adequate measures to prevent accidents. From January 2018 through December 2022, there were 99 reported crashes on this stretch of SR 509, with 35 involving drivers who disregarded traffic signs or stop lights. The lawsuit claims that discussions about implementing safety improvements, such as signal warning signs and a “prepare to stop when flashing” sign, were held but not effectively acted upon.

The incident highlights the severe consequences of inaction on known road safety issues. Cochran pointed out, “One thing about the lawsuit is it gives the family some hope that they can give meaning to Cerra’s life, that they can help affect changes here that will prevent other people down the road from being harmed.”


WSDOT has acknowledged the issues and proposed several measures as part of its $376 million 167 Completion Project, scheduled for completion in 2026. The project includes reducing the two intersections on Alexander Avenue to a single crossing controlled by one set of traffic lights. Additionally, “prepare to stop when flashing” signs will replace existing “signal ahead” signs, with flashing beacons to alert drivers of upcoming signal changes.

Despite these planned improvements, PCVA partner Kevin Hastings emphasize the delay in implementing safety measures has already had fatal consequences. “This was a ticking time bomb,. Between the high speeds and low visibility at this dangerous intersection, officials knew it was only a matter of time before someone was killed here.  And time senselessly ran out for Cerra and the others,” Hastings said.

The outcome of this lawsuit could set a precedent for how similar cases are handled in the future and potentially lead to more proactive approaches in mitigating road dangers.

As the lawsuit progresses, it remains to be seen how the city of Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma, and WSDOT will respond to the allegations. For now, the Corner family continues to advocate for justice for Cerra and for the safety of others who travel through this perilous intersection.