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Innocent plea in street market deaths

An 87-year-old man pleaded innocent Tuesday in the deaths of 10 people last summer when his car hurtled through a crowded California farmers market.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An 87-year-old man pleaded innocent to vehicular manslaughter Tuesday in the deaths of 10 people who were struck when his car barreled through a crowded farmers market.

George R. Weller was charged with 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. In addition to the deaths, 63 people were injured.

A judge released him without bail on condition he not drive. Prosecutors had asked for $50,000 bail.

“Should Mr. Weller decide to get back into a car he represents a threat to public safety,” said Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle.

Weller’s attorneys contended the July 16 accident in suburban Santa Monica was an accident rather than a crime, and resulted from Weller’s stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Police said Weller avoided cars parked on either side and reached speeds of more than 60 mph. Police also concluded that he did not try to stop his car as it sped nearly 1,000 feet along the crowded street.

Outside court, lawyers for Weller said a doctor has determined that Weller has a condition called a heart block that can cause the heart to stop beating for several seconds. The attorneys said they believe that Weller had a heart block just before a collision with another car that occurred moments before his car reached the farmers market.

If convicted on all counts, Weller could get anywhere from probation to 18 years in prison.