Police will ask the district attorney to file manslaughter charges against an 87-year-old man whose car roared through a farmer’s market in this beachfront city, killing 10 people and injuring 63.
The July 16 crash was the result of unsafe speed and other violations by Russell Weller, police Chief James T. Butts told reporters outside police headquarters Wednesday.
“We’re asking consideration of the district attorney’s office in seeking to file the charge of manslaughter,” Butts said.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said his office has received the police department’s more than 900-page report and will make a decision after reviewing it. An assistant prosecutor said he expected a decision to be made in a few weeks.
“The DA’s office had prosecutors present at the crime scene within the first few hours and has been reviewing reports and interviewing hundreds of witnesses since then,” Cooley said in a statement issued shortly before the news conference.
Weller’s attorney said his client shouldn’t face charges.
“We’re anxious to see the report because we’ve conducted our own extensive investigation and concluded this was a tragic, terrible accident,” attorney Jim Bianco said. “There was no intent to hurt anyone, no negligence and no crime.”
He added that Weller was heartbroken by what happened: “He suffers every minute of every day knowing that he was driving that car.”
The outdoor market was crowded with shoppers when Weller’s car barreled through, sending bodies flying and smashing through tents and boxes of produce.
Butts said Weller had just mailed a letter at a nearby post office and turned onto a street, striking a Mercedes-Benz from behind. That accident caused only minor damage, the chief said, but then Weller’s Buick suddenly pushed the Mercedes out of its path, picked up speed and roared into the middle of the market, on a street that had been barricaded for the event.
More than 100 collisions occurred over about 1,000 feet before the Buick’s path was finally blocked, Butts said. Weller never applied the brakes or tried to take the car out of gear, he added.
Unsafe speed was among the causes of the crash, Butts said, adding that it appeared Weller stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. The car had no mechanical problems, he added.
Butts also said Weller had “medical conditions that included reduced mobility,” which police believe played a part in the crash.