Catsouras family appeals grisly toll road photo case (2024)

LADERA RANCH – When Christos Catsouras arrived at the horrific accident scene, his 18-year-old daughter pinned somewhere in the crumpled remains of his black Porsche, officers from the California Highway Patrol kept him behind the police tape.

Later, when officers drove from the crash site on the 241 toll road in Lake Forest to his home in Ladera Ranch, Catsouras asked of his daughter Nikki, “Did she get hurt?”

“She’s unidentifiable,” a CHP officer told him, according to his account. “You can’t see her body.”

Days later, at the click of a computer mouse, strangers from around the world were able to see, in high-resolution color, graphic pictures of Nikki’s decapitated remains — the result, the CHP later admitted, of two employees improperly leaking the images onto the Internet.

Tuesday, in a continuing saga that has garnered national attention, lawyers for the Catsouras family filed an appeal in the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. The family seeks to overturn a judge’s dismissal in March of their civil lawsuit against the CHP and two dispatchers.

Citing existing federal and state rulings, the 40-page appeal argues that Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk got it wrong in declaring that the CHP and its employees, in handling Nikki’s remains, had no special duty to protect the privacy of her surviving relatives.

The Catsouras family has the right to seek damages from the CHP because the agency made public what should have remained private, subjecting them to deep emotional anguish, the appeal says.


“There is no question that a funeral home would be liable for negligence if it took photographs of the deceased and then disseminated those photos without authorization from the surviving family members,” the complaint says.

Lesli Catsouras, Nikki’s mother, said her family’s privacy has been violated.

“Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead, and we object to unwarranted public exploitation,” she said. “This intrusion upon our grief has disgraced the rites and respect we sought and continue to seekon behalf of our beloved daughter, Nikki.”

The violent death of Nikki and the ensuing online parade of photos, many that appeared on fringe Web sites that appeal to the morbidly curious, have sparked a torrent of discussion in the community and on Internet message boards.

Supporters of the lawsuit say the CHP needs to be held legally accountable for the pain and suffering the action of its employees caused. Critics say no amount of money can bring Nikki back, and that the photos even serve a purpose by shocking drivers into being more careful.

Lesli and Christos Catsouras sat down, somewhat reluctantly, to discuss the filing of the appeal with the Register, in the Ladera Ranch home Nikki shared with them and her three younger sisters: Danielle, 17, Christiana, 15, and Kira, 9.

With the two-year anniversary of Nikki’s death on Halloween 2006 approaching, her parents know that any publicity is a double-edged sword: that more people will search the Internet to see the pictures, and that some will criticize their intentions in pursuing the lawsuit.

“All we ever wanted, from day one, was to have the CHP help us in getting these pictures removed from Web sites,” said Christos Catsouras, 44, who manages a real estate company. “But that didn’t happen. It was only when someone recommended that we hire a lawyer that we eventually filed the lawsuit.”

The family first had to file a claim against the state before they could sue the CHP. A figure for damages attached to that claim — $20 million — sparked criticism that the Catsouras family only was suing for the money.

Christos Catsouras gets visibly angered at the suggestion.

“It’s really disturbing,” he said. “The CHP needs to be held accountable for this. Case law needs to be established to insure that this doesn’t happen to another family.”

He asked a question meant for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “What would you do,” he said, “and what would you expect to be done, if this happened to one of your children?”

The Catsouras family continues to pay a private company, Reputation Defender, to order Web site operators to take down the offending images. It’s an impossible task, they acknowledge, to get rid of them all.

The CHP does not comment on pending litigation.

In a previously released statement, the agency called the accident “tragic” and its aftermath a “difficult, unfortunate situation,” and said disciplinary steps were taken.

One of the defendants, CHP dispatch supervisor Thomas O’Donnell, was suspended without pay for 25 days. The other, Aaron Reich, no longer works for the CHP.

Accident photos are supposed to be used only for investigative purposes, although the CHP also uses some, with permission, for educational photos in publications.

Keith Bremer, lead attorney for the Catsouras family, said the CHP and its employees breached laws concerning “duty of care” in the handling and control of human remains.

“It’s as if they took (one of Nikki’s body parts) and put it on display at the mall for anyone to walk by and gawk at,” said Bremer, of Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara in Newport Beach.

Perk, in dismissing the lawsuit, appeared to side with those who believe that the real culprits are those who continue to look at and transmit photos of Nikki’s body — and, in some cases, taunt the family directly.

According to the lawsuit, someone sent an email to Christos Catsouras with the subject line “Woo Hoo Daddy.” When he opened it, the email said “Hey Daddy I’m still alive,” with graphic images of Nikki’s uncovered remains displayed next to the message.

Another person sent an email to the family with the subject line “Fletcher Jones,” a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Newport Beach, according to the lawsuit. When the message was opened, the photos appeared.

All members of Nikki’s family remain in counseling, Lesli Catsouras said. Nikki’s siblings are careful when they go online but sometimes accidentally stumble across the grisly images of their sister, she said.

Although Lesli and Christos Catsouras still talk publicly about the lawsuit, they say they look forward to putting the legal saga behind them and holding onto more pleasant memories of their daughter, who was about to enroll in college to study photography.

“I don’t know how to put in words how I feel,” Lesli Catsouras said. “It’s not even grief anymore. I just can’t describe it.”

A decision on the appeal is expected around December, Bremer said.

Contact the writer: or 949-454-7356

Catsouras family appeals grisly toll road photo case (2024)


How fast was Nikki Catsouras driving? ›

Catsouras was traveling on the 241 Toll Road in Lake Forest at approximately 1:38 pm, when she clipped a Honda Civic that she was attempting to pass on the right at over 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).

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Meaning:Offering, gift; Hog, pig. Porshe is a girl's name that is thought to mean "offering" or "gift." It's of Latin and English origin and is likely a variant of the name Porsche, which is overwhelmingly linked to the German luxury car brand.

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According to prosecutors, Reid was driving about 84 mph in a 65 mph zone when he hit two parked cars near Arrowhead Stadium in February 2021.

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She was interred in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.

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Where is Joi Lansing buried? ›

Joi Lansing
Lansing with Ralph Taeger in Klondike (1960)
BornJoy Rae BrownApril 6, 1929 Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
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In later years Clarke resided at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. Clarke died of cancer on April 29, 1992, at age 81. She is buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.

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When soundtrack work fell off in the 1980s, he scored music for theme parks such as SeaWorld. Baxter died in Newport Beach, California at the age of 73. He was buried at Pacific View Memorial Park, in Corona del Mar, California.

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Zona V. 15.11. Cremated in Los Angeles on March 17, 1961, her ashes were flown to Rome six months later.

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