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 found guilty Friday, October 20th, of ten counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
Weller, who was 86 when the crash occurred July 16th, 2003, now faces up to 18 years in prison.
He was not at Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles when the verdicts were read, because of his poor health.
Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson did not immediately schedule a sentencing date but asked attorneys to return to the court for a hearing Friday, October 27th, to set a date for the sentencing, district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
The jury, comprised of six men and six women, had deliberated for eight days before reaching a verdict in the trial of the Santa Monica Farmers Market crash.
Weller attended the trial’s opening statements but his attorneys requested that he not be in court throughout the trial, which had lasted more than a month, because of his failing health.
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. During the trial, jurors were shown pictures of the victims and the crash site.
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.
The crash sparked a national debate over elderly drivers.
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 pedal on his vehicle.
But the prosecution, led by deputy district attorney Ann Ambrose, made the case that the elderly driver was able to see, steer and stop the vehicle and could have prevented the tragedy from occurring.