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Families and Witnesses Wonder About Crash Probe

Police: More than a month after a vehicle smashed into a pool hall, killing two people, investigators still haven't interviewed the driver.

July 05, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Skid marks still scar the barroom floor where a speeding Jeep Cherokee plowed through a West Los Angeles pool hall five weeks ago, killing two patrons and injuring several others.

And while plywood and particle board disguise all other physical evidence, the crash lingers unresolved in the legal system in a way that troubles witnesses and the families of its victims.

Police still haven't interviewed the driver, 39-year-old Hollywood film writer and director Eric Red, who reportedly swerved across three lanes of traffic, plowed through a bus stop and the bar's patio, splintered the mahogany bar and then jumped from the Jeep and began slashing his own throat with a shard of glass.

Relatives of one victim and bar patrons who witnessed the May 31 incident are confounded by the fact that Red, who was released from a hospital three days later, has received no citation and has refused to speak with investigators.

Police say their hands are tied for now.

"You have the right to remain silent and if an attorney says [his client] ain't talking to you, then we're stuck," Los Angeles Police Department Det. Mike Farrell said. "If he keeps [avoiding police], we'll just submit the case to the district attorney's office without an interview."

Red could not be reached for comment and his attorney, Keith G. Fleer, and agent, Scott Penney, did not return calls seeking comment. Police plan to reinterview some of the more than 20 witnesses to the accident before filing a case with the district attorney's office, Los Angeles Police Officer Dan Kemble said.

"We're trying to find out what [Red's] state of mind was a day prior to the crash, a week prior to the crash, because that all plays into why this all happened," Kemble said.

Meanwhile, business is down about 25% at Q's Billiards, owner David Houston said. During happy hour last Friday evening, many chairs were empty and only a few of the 10 billiard tables were in use.

Regulars who used to favor bar stools at the entrance near Wilshire Boulevard now sit in the corner farthest from the street. Many refused to talk about the case, saying they are still waiting for police to interview them.

Houston, who estimated the crash cost him almost $200,000 in damages and lost business, said he will host a fund-raiser for the families of the two dead men after the repairs are complete. A half-dozen other people were hurt in the crash, some suffering broken bones and others minor injuries.

Red is a director known for action and horror films of the late 1980s and early '90s, such as "The Hitcher," "Blue Steel" and "Body Parts." His last film credit was in 1995.

One of two men killed in the crash was first-year law associate Noah Baum, 34, who recently had won his first trial and had left the office early that Wednesday evening to watch a basketball game at the bar.

Baum died instantly when he was struck by Red's vehicle. Also struck and killed was David Roos, a 26-year-old Santa Monica College student who was walking past the bar when the Jeep jumped the curb.

Baum's older brothers, Eric Baum, 45, vice president of legal affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Brandon Baum, 40, a partner at a Palo Alto law firm, have questioned the handling of the police investigation.

"We're having a hard time that it's being investigated by [West Los Angeles] Traffic and not Robbery Homicide," Eric Baum said. "None of it seems to make sense."

Although witnesses said Red was slumped over the steering wheel moments before the Jeep accelerated into the bar, former prosecutor Brandon Baum said it is "implausible" to suggest that Red was unconscious at the time.

"I'm aware of the lack of fairness in fate," he said. "I know there are random acts of violence that can occur to any of us. It happens, but it's still devastating."

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