Every week, Sara Toral lays fresh flowers in an alley behind Burbank Blvd in Sherman Oaks, at the spot where her 35 year-old son David Soto-Toral was hit and killed by a city of LA Sanitation truck around noon on Jan. 25.
“The day he died, a piece of me died,” Toral told the NBC4 I-Team. “I cannot explain the pain.”
Toral didn’t learn about her son’s death, she says, until a day later when the LA County Coroner called and told her that David had been accidentally run over by a garbage truck, crushing his skull to the point “he was unrecognizable.”
She is now looking for answers how a trash truck could run over a person visible to some witnesses in broad daylight.
She is also upset that within hours of David’s death, city officials referred to her son as “homeless,” a label she says is not accurate.
Sara Toral says there’s more to the story of her son, who she said had recently been working and living with relatives.
“I don’t consider him homeless. I consider him a person struggling with drug addiction,” Toral said.
She says her son’s addiction began in his teens, when he was an avid skateboarder, so accomplished he got sponsorships.
“David was passionate about skateboarding, David had goals, David was an intelligent kid with a heart of gold,” Toral said.
But he had at least four skateboarding accidents where he broke bones, she says, and each time was prescribed opioid painkillers.
“Doctors prescribed the pills… and he got addicted to them,” Toral told NBC4.
She said his opioid addiction eventually lead to other drugs, including marijuana, heroin, and fentanyl.
She says David had a career in the entertainment business, attended family holiday gatherings like Christmas, and was living with his aunt in San Fernando, but continued to use drugs.
“It appeared that whenever he’d go on his ‘addiction trips,’ he wouldn’t want to be around family, so he’d disappear,” Toral said.
And that appears to have happened around Jan. 25, when he was spotted on a surveillance camera — apparently high –on the sidewalk outside a friend’s apartment on Burbank Blvd. near Noble Avenue in Sherman Oaks.
Around 11 a.m., apartment resident Heidi Kaufman told NBC4 she left the back entrance of her building to go for a walk, and saw something in the middle of the alley.
“I saw a big pile of blankets. I had no idea it was a person,” Kaufman said.
But 20 minutes later, two other neighbors were pulling out of their garage in the alley, and told NBC4 they saw David sitting on the ground.
“I could clearly see that it was a person,” said Nora, who asked the I-Team not to use her full name. “I would think that anybody who would drive into the alley would see him,” Nora added.
But an LA Sanitation truck backing into the alley to empty trash apparently didn’t see David sitting on the ground and ran over him, even though the truck had five cameras on it — including one in the front and one in the back, according to the Sanitation Department.
“I told the LAPD exactly what I saw,” Nora told the I-Team, but says officers on the scene didn’t take a statement from her.
The LAPD told NBC4 in an email, that it did interview two witnesses and the driver of the truck, who “provided a chemical sample…was not impaired…[and] there are no criminal charges anticipated.”
The I-Team learned there have been at least five fatal accidents involving LA garbage trucks in the last decade, including one in December in San Pedro, where a trash truck hit and killed a pedestrian at Pacific Avenue and 13th Street.
And as the I-Team has previously reported, there have also been hit and runs involving LA trash trucks, such as one on LA’s westside in 2021, where a Sanitation truck backed into a parked car, dented and scratched it, and drove off without reporting it. LA Sanitation says that driver is now in “the disciplinary process.”
Toral now wants answers as to why that LA garbage truck hit and rolled over her son David in Sherman Oaks, in broad daylight.
“He was a human being, and no mother should have to bury their kids and nobody should have to go through the pain that I’m going through,” Toral said.
The Sanitation Department says it can’t comment on the status of the driver for privacy reasons, while the LAPD’s investigation is ongoing.
Toral plans to file a wrongful death claim against the city of LA in the coming days.