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Manslaughter asked in street market deaths

Russell Weller leaves the police station with an unidentified relative in July.
Russell Weller leaves the police station with an unidentified relative in July.

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(CNN) -- Authorities recommended manslaughter charges Wednesday against the 86-year-old driver who plowed through a suburban Los Angeles, California, street market in July, killing 10 people and injuring dozens.

Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts Jr. said at a news conference his department recommended the charges against Russell Weller to the Los Angeles district attorney's officer earlier in day.

On July 16, Weller drove his 1992 Buick LeSabre three blocks through the crowded, pedestrians-only farmers' market in downtown Santa Monica, a town of about 100,000 people overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 15 miles west of Los Angeles.

Among the dead was an infant who had been in a stroller. Sixty-three people were injured. (Full story)

After a five-month investigation, Butts said it's believed Weller hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal following a minor fender bender at an intersection near where streets are cordoned off for the weekly market.

His car eventually stopped only because a body trapped beneath the vehicle slowed it down, Butts said.

"Mr. Weller was conscious throughout the collision sequence. No evidence exists that Mr. Weller attempted to take the car out of gear. There is no indication of braking throughout the entire collision sequence," Butts said.

Weller could face up to 10 years in prison or more, depending on how many manslaughter charges are eventually filed. Butts said police recommended 10 counts.

Butts said the determination of the charges was made in part by "the statements of witnesses who observed him upright, eyes open, hands on the steering wheel in a 10-and-2 position, navigating the car."

Shortly after the accident, Weller issued a statement saying his "heart is broken over the extent of the tragedy."

"There are no words to express the feelings my family and I have for those who suffered loss and pain," his statement said.

Weller had his driver's license renewed in November 2000 and had no history of accidents or citations, according to state records.

Butts said Weller's age was not a determinant factor in the accident.

"Each and every one of us is responsible, when we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, to be sure that we're able to pilot that vehicle in a safe and responsible manner," the police chief said.

"So, age and medical conditions are the responsibility of the driver."


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