Infant 10th fatality in farmers' market crash
SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) -- A 7-month-old boy died Thursday of injuries suffered Wednesday when an 86-year-old man drove his car through a crowded farmers' market in Santa Monica, California.
The boy was the 10th fatality. More than 50 people were injured when Russell Weller drove his car through the pedestrians-only, three-block stretch crowded with shoppers, police said. Weller may face manslaughter charges, police said Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office identified the latest victim as Brendon Esfahani.
Despite the tragedy, officials said a farmers' market will be held as scheduled Saturday at the same location, along with an interfaith service to mourn those killed and injured.
Weller told police he could not stop his 1992 Buick LeSabre as it barrelled through the crowd. Santa Monica's police chief said Weller might have hit the gas pedal instead of his brakes.
The car finally stopped with a man on the hood and a woman pinned underneath, a witness said.
One witness, Anne Sage, called the scene -- about three blocks from the Los Angeles suburb's landmark pier -- "complete bedlam."
"There was one woman who was obviously killed on the pavement," said Sage, a worker in a nearby office. "I went over to a young girl who was just sitting there, completely dazed, and tried to help her. It was horrendous."
Sage's co-worker, Tracy Williams, said she feels "terribly sorry" for Weller. She said a friend, who attends the same church as Weller, is "just devastated and told us what a wonderful man he is, and I feel terribly sorry for him and his wife."
Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts Jr. called the scene "the single most horrific, devastating scene of tragedy I've ever witnessed in 30 years of law enforcement."
Butts said Weller could be charged with manslaughter once police turn the case over to the district attorney's office, which he said could happen in two to three weeks.
"I think at the end of the day we're going to find a driver that had diminished capacity -- and whether that's going to rise to the level of manslaughter, that's going to be for the DA to ascertain," he said.
Hospital tests found the driver had no alcohol or psychiatric medications in his system at the time of Wednesday's crash.
Investigators searched Weller's home Wednesday night looking for prescription drugs or other evidence that could indicate he "had a diminished capacity to drive," Butts said.
"He seemed confused to me, but he had been through one of the most tragic crashes that I have ever seen," Butts said.
Weller's attorney, Jim Bianco, released a statement from the family late Wednesday:
"Mr. Weller and his family want to express their deepest sympathies to the victims and their families of the tragic accident earlier today.
"This was an unintentional and unfortunate accident. Mr. Weller is very shaken up, but his thoughts are with the victims and their families."
Weller's car will undergo a mechanical investigation, Butts said.
Butts said officers have interviewed more than 100 witnesses, who gave conflicting reports regarding the driver's demeanor at the time of the crash.
"We're attempting to determine whether this was a straight accident -- medically related -- criminal negligence or criminal homicide," Butts said. "Right now it looks as though there may be some negligence as far as his capacity to drive safely."
There was no indication Weller intended to injure any pedestrians, Butts said.
Police released Weller from custody Wednesday evening after detectives interviewed him.
The car stopped only after a pedestrian was thrown into the air and landed on the windshield of the vehicle, Butts said.
Witness Joe Crisman said 10 people lifted the car off a victim, who was still breathing.
Another witness, Lore Caulfield, said: "It was like a Sherman tank barreling through, hitting everything, just going right over people. He was not only speeding, he was accelerating."