Wednesday, July 17

Online exclusive: Market crash victims’ names released


Police investigating driver's competence; could face manslaughter charges

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office released today the
names of eight of 10 victims killed when an 86-year-old man drove
his car through a crowded farmers market in Santa Monica.

The identified victims are: Movsha Hoffman, 78, of Santa Monica;
Molok Ghoulian, 62, of Los Angeles; Gloria Olivera Gonzalez, 35, of
Venice; Diana McCarthy, 41, of Los Angeles; Kevin McCarthy, 50, of
Los Angeles; Cindy Palacios Valladares, 3, of Los Angeles; and
Lynne Ann Weaver, 47, of Woodland Hills.

Two of the victims’ names are being withheld pending
notification of their families. They were a 50-year-old man and a
55-year-old woman.

Eight of the victims died immediately, and one, a 50-year-old
man, died later at St. John’s Hospital.

Seven-month-old Brendon Esfahani was the youngest victim of the
crash. He was pronounced dead Thursday at UCLA Medical Center.

Up to 45 people were injured, and many are being treated at four
area hospitals.

Hospital authorities said the UCLA Medical Center received 13
patients, with six in critical condition. The Santa Monica-UCLA
Medical Center received 12 patients, with one in critical
condition.

Authorities who are investigating the incident said they are
still unsure why 86-year-old Russell Weller, the driver of the car,
plowed through the bustling market area shortly before 2 p.m.
Wednesday.

Teresa McKinn, a 59-year-old resident of Alta Loma, said she
turned in time to see the red 1992 Buick driving through
pedestrians in the market area.

“I heard a noise … thump, thump, thump … I saw the car
barreling through with two bodies on the hood,” she said.

Police said Weller told them he may have mistakenly hit his
car’s gas pedal instead of the brake.

A blood test showed no trace of alcohol or psychoactive drugs in
Weller’s blood, and Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts
added that though they are unsure of whether the act was one of
negligence, police are pursuing the investigation “as if it
were a criminal act.”

Butts added the real issue could be whether Weller, who was not
arrested, was fully capable of driving.

“˜’Unless there’s intent later proven, I think
what we’re going to find is we have an 86-year-old driver
that may not have been as competent as he needed to be to
drive,” he said on ABC’s Good Morning
America.

At a press conference Wednesday, Butts said Weller could be
charged with manslaughter, but that the decision would ultimately
be in the district attorney’s hands.

After Wednesday’s accident, several blocks of the market
area were transformed into a triage, where workers treated the
injured on sheets laid out on the pavement.

The street was strewn with boxes and smashed produce, and yellow
caution tape meshed with leveled market tents.

Shortly after 3 p.m. it began to rain hard as emergency workers
moved among the bodies of the injured and deceased.

TV reports showed a red car with damage to its hood and roof,
and witnesses said the car’s driver emerged from the
vehicle.

“I saw the driver getting out of the car and the police
talking to him, a body of an elderly person on the windshield of
the car,” said Michael Cheselka, 42, of Milpitas, Calif.

Emergency workers from both Santa Monica and neighboring areas
were on the scene.

The street was packed full with emergency vehicles, and patients
were airlifted to area hospitals.

Dozens of people lined up at the accident scene in order to
donate blood Thursday morning.

The farmers’ market draws over 9,000 shoppers, and spans
two blocks of Arizona Avenue, bisecting Third Street Promenade.

Jennifer Williams, a 26-year-old sales representative who lives
on 12th Street, near where the incident occurred, said she could
not believe “something like that could happen” in her
neighborhood.

“There were bodies everywhere ““ children, old
people, lots of blood,” she said.

With reports from Daily Bruin staff and wire
services.

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