Luke Acuna

Luke Acuna wants to be the first man on Mars. But more than that, the 10-year-old San Diego boy wants to be the first person to walk on Mars wearing a prosthetic.

These are big, brave dreams for any boy. Even bigger when you consider the devastating, life-altering accident Luke survived. And the obstacles that now lay ahead of him in order to make this, or any of his dreams, a reality.

In November 2011, Luke was riding his skateboard home from school when he was run over by a City of San Diego trash truck that was making an illegal t-turn. Luke spent the next 113 days in a coma, and woke up to find his body forever changed.

In addition to his left leg being amputated, Luke’s pelvis was broken and he suffered major internal injuries. Luke required multiple operations to bring him back from the brink of death. And he will require therapy and pain management for the rest of his life.

But Luke’s spirit remains as bold as ever.

The Day of the Accident

Luke’s accident is a parent’s worst nightmare. Anthony Acuna struggles for words when thinking back to that day.

It was a Friday afternoon and Anthony was home early from work for a change. Just as he and his wife were on their way to Luke’s school to escort him home, Anthony’s phone rang. It was a friend at the scene of the accident. She told Anthony and his wife Dawneva to stay away. To witness what had happened to their son would not be a good idea.

Next, the San Diego Police called. They too told the Acunas not to come to the scene of the accident. But instead to go to the hospital and meet the ambulance there.

It was the longest ride of Anthony Acuna’s life.

“It was forever,” Anthony Acuna says haltingly. “It’s too hard…..It was just a horrible feeling. …We had no idea what had happened.”

Moments after entering a crosswalk on his skateboard, Luke was run over by the city trash truck. After that, he was in an ambulance being rushed to Rady Children’s Hospital unconscious and bleeding to death.

Preparing for Trial

On the day the trial was scheduled to begin, the City of San Diego agreed to an $18.5 million settlement, which is believed to be the largest settlement of its type ever paid by San Diego.

But getting to that point involved much work on the part of the Estey & Bomberger team assigned to Luke’s case, particularly because the police report about the accident was not favorable. According to police, Luke was at fault because he had ridden his skateboard directly under the truck and was not paying attention to his surroundings. Numerous other law firms rejected Luke’s case after learning of the adverse police report.

Estey & Bomberger however, took on the challenge.

And to combat what was stated in the report, and figure out how best to turn the liability discussion toward the trash truck driver and his actions, the firm conducted almost 20 focus groups in the months leading to trial. The team also conducted more than 70 depositions – a number which included several accident witnesses, city employees and numerous medical and liability experts.

By the time the trial date neared, the Estey & Bomberger team was fully prepared to try the case. And when a mediator proposed a $16.75 million settlement, Estey & Bomberger rejected it.

But when the City offered an amount high enough to take care of Luke for the remainder of his life – $18.5 million – the firm decided it was in Luke’s best interest to settle the case.

The Settlement Secured – Focus on the Future

Even as a toddler, Luke was an exceptional athlete, says his dad with a warm smile, glancing at his son sitting beside him, who’s busily twirling one of his crutches in circles.

One month shy of turning two years old, Luke was riding a bicycle and a skateboard, Anthony Acuna says.

By the time he turned eight, Luke was playing football on the varsity football team for 13 to 15 year olds.

These days Luke alternates between using crutches and a wheelchair. But Luke has incorporated his new mode of transportation into his goals for the future.

Already a big fan of popping wheelies in his wheelchair, Luke hopes to be the first pre-teen to do a double flip in a wheel chair. And he wants to do it on New Year’s Eve, next year.

“I want to do a back-flip through time, at midnight, on at New Year’s Eve,” he says, grinning from ear to ear, his brown eyes lighting up.

Luke also plans to participate in the Paralympics games, in the sport of archery. And then there’s his plan to walk on Mars, which will require a bachelor’s degree in science, as a first step. All of these things remain on Luke’s list of goals. And with the settlement from the city now taken care of, Luke and his father Anthony can get on with making his dreams a reality.

Luke says he hopes to be a role model for other children suffering from such injuries.

“You can’t feel too sorry for yourself, and know things will get better,” he says softly, but full of a profound optimism and eloquence for a 10-year-old boy.

He doesn’t realize that he is already a role model.

Watch the Channel 10 News Story about Luke Acuna: