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Decision Not to Cite Driver in Fatal Crash Explained to Asians

February 05, 1989|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — The deputy district attorney, speaking in a somber voice, said he was taking an unusual step. Normally, in a case like this, there would be no formal announcement.

But Don Eastman said Thursday that it was important to come in person to announce his office's decision not to prosecute the man whose car rammed into the Four Happiness Restaurant in Monterey Park on Dec. 28, killing two people and injuring the driver and four others.

Widespread Concern

Eastman said he was holding a press conference because of widespread concern about the case among Monterey Park's Asian population. Some people, he acknowledged, felt that the driver, Rudy D'Agostin, 70, of Sherman Oaks, should have been charged as a result of the accident, in which all the victims, except for D'Agostin himself, were of Chinese ancestry.

But Eastman, head of the district attorney's Pasadena office, said independent reviews by four Los Angeles County prosecutors concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that D'Agostin committed any crime. It is unclear, Eastman said, why D'Agostin lost control of his car and crashed into the Garfield Avenue restaurant, which was crowded with late-afternoon diners.

Tests showed that D'Agostin was not intoxicated, Eastman said. But he added that "age and medical problems caused (D'Agostin) to really have no idea what he was doing."

It is possible, Eastman said, that D'Agostin had suffered a mild stroke. He had been missing from home for two days, and at 1:35 a.m., about 15 hours before the accident, a policeman stopped him in Burbank for running a stop sign.

At that time, Eastman said, the policeman reported that D'Agostin seemed disoriented. The Sherman Oaks man provided an address that was no longer current and told the officer that he was lost and trying to find his way home.

D'Agostin had stopped taking medication for high blood pressure, but his doctor had told him to resume taking it, Eastman said. The day before the accident, D'Agostin visited the doctor and was reported as missing when he didn't return home.

Expired License

For whatever reason, Eastman said, D'Agostin ended up in Monterey Park.

He said D'Agostin was driving with an expired driver's license and may have committed some minor traffic infractions in the incident. But Eastman said his office's concern was solely with whether a felony or serious misdemeanor had occurred.

Eastman and Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen S. C. Lee spoke at the press conference to about 20 people, including representatives from the Chinese-language media, which have covered the accident extensively. They cited cultural differences and the potential misunderstandings that have arisen in the case.

Eastman said: "I don't pretend to know what Asian culture would say about this."

But Lee, whose grandparents came from China, said Asian culture is less accepting of mental or physical problems as an excuse for a driver in this type of situation. "That's a major hurdle that people who come over here don't understand," Lee said.

Dale E. Butler, who operates a sheet metal business next to the restaurant and is a friend of the family of a 17-year-old girl who was killed, complained: "In Taiwan this guy would have gone to jail for three to five years, automatically."

At the end of the press conference, lawyer David L. Arnopole, who said he represents the accident victims and their families, asked Eastman to reconsider prosecuting the case. But Eastman gave no indication that he would reconsider.

Two of the five people injured, Arnopole said, were still in the hospital.

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