George Russell Weller, the 89-year-old man who drove his vehicle through a farmers market in Santa Monica more than three years ago, killing ten people and injuring more than 60 others, was sentenced Monday, November 20th, to five years of supervised probation without having to serve time in prison.
Weller, who was 86 when the farmers market crash occurred in July 2003, could have received up to 18 years in prison.
He was convicted Monday, October 20th, of ten counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said he agreed with the jury’s conviction and felt Weller deserves to go to prison, but because of Weller’s failing health, the judge instead ordered probation and more than $100,000 in restitution and fines.
Weller was not in court for the sentencing, nor when the verdicts were read, as the court had ruled he did not have to appear due to his failing health.
Physician reports filed by the defense had claimed Weller is bedridden and frail and has mounting medical problems, Johnson said.
While Johnson said Weller “clearly deserves a prison sentence,” the decision to order a prison term would be a burden on prison authorities and to the taxpayers who would have to pay the cost of the aging defendant’s medical care while incarcerated and would most likely kill Weller.
The judge instead chose to place Weller on probation and ordered the defendant to pay $57,500 in restitution for the families of two of the crash victims who have applied.
As more requests for restitution come from the families of victims, Deputy District Attorney Sam Dordulian told the judge he would give them to the court.
Johnson also ordered Weller to pay $44,200 in fines and fees.
The prosecution had not recommended a sentence for Weller.
Prior to the judge ordering a sentence, family members of victim Lynne Weaver spoke in court, as well as a family member of Weller.
The jury in the trial had deliberated for eight days before reaching a guilty verdict.
The ten counts of vehicular manslaughter represented each of the ten victims who were killed when Weller drove his Buick Le Sabre through the crowded open-air market on Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica.
The victims ranged in age from seven months to 78 years.
Weller’s vehicle reportedly traveled approximately 300 yards through the market and reached speeds of about 60 miles an hour as it crashed through produce stalls.
Defense attorneys argued throughout the trial that the crash was the result of “pedal error,” in which Weller accidentally mistook the accelerator for the brake on his vehicle.
But the prosecution made the case that the elderly driver could have prevented the tragedy from occurring.