SoCal market crash driver says he tried everything to stop car
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The elderly man whose car roared through a farmers market, hitting more than 70 people and killing 10, told police he did everything he could to halt the vehicle and had no idea why it wouldn’t stop, according to a tape played Wednesday at his manslaughter trial.
“I tried to take the control knob and jam it into park. Everything. Anything that I thought would stop the action of the car,” George Russell Weller told a California Highway Patrol investigator and a Santa Monica police detective hours after the July 16, 2003, crash. A tape of the police interview was played Wednesday at his trial in Superior Court.
Weller, 89, is charged with 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter and faces as much as 18 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say he was negligent in the operation of his car and indifferent to the carnage he caused. Defense attorneys say he simply mistook his car’s gas pedal for the brake in a moment of panic.
Weller, who was apologetic on the tape, said he had no idea how many people he ran over.
“But I’m deeply sorry for any pain that everyone went through. It was my fault,” he said.
Authorities said his 1992 Buick Le Sabre traveled 300 yards through the open-air market, reaching speeds of 60 mph as it hit food stalls and people before coming to a halt with one victim on the hood and another tangled underneath.
Those killed ranged in age from 7 months to 78 years.
At one point, Deputy District Attorney Ann Ambrose showed slides of the bloodied, contorted bodies of the victims, and Dr. Christopher Rogers, a deputy medical examiner for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, testified that each was killed by multiple traumatic blows from a car traveling at highway speed.
A survivor who testified said she was sitting in a chair at one of the market’s tents when she was suddenly run over.
“I saw everything in the air and a huge car coming at me. I had no idea where it came from,” said Parvaneh Davood, testifying in Farsi.
Davood, who limped into the courtroom, said her next memory was of waking up in the hospital. She suffered burns on her back, a broken shoulder, broken pelvis and a left leg broken in eight places.
Weller told police he didn’t know whether he stepped on the accelerator by accident.
“I’m not being capricious in my answer on that,” he said. “The car was going, and if my foot was on the accelerator, it would have never … I never, never drive at the speed that that thing accelerated to. And I went through that place, and God help the poor people that were in there.”
When the vehicle finally stopped, Weller said he witnessed a surreal scene, with people shouting that he should be executed on the spot for what he had done.
“I saw a side of Santa Monica so strange today as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You can’t believe all the names I was called. You know one of them: ‘He’s a terrorist.”‘
Weller, who was in court for the prosecution’s opening statement, was not on hand Wednesday to hear himself on tape. The judge has agreed that the elderly man, in frail health, need not return until jurors reach a verdict.
Weller was leaving a post office when the accident occurred, and witnesses have testified that after rear-ending a Mercedes-Benz his car suddenly roared into the market.
The retired food broker said his wife had asked him not to drive that day, but he wanted to make sure a letter to his great-niece, who was getting married that weekend, arrived on time.
“How do you figure that a simple thing like that would be a precursor to all of the agony that I brought people?” he asked.
Asked if he was hurt, he replied, “I’m scarred of soul.”
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