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Motorist, 23, Gets Life Term in Fatal Crash

Courts: Chatsworth man is sentenced for killing a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor while fleeing police.


A 23-year-old former drug addict was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for killing a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor when he crashed into her car during a televised high-speed police chase.

After hearing an emotional appeal from the victim's husband, the judge ordered a smirking James Arthur McMann to prison for life without parole.

"There were so many opportunities [for McMann] to make other decisions," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Warren G. Greene said. "He consistently made bad decision after bad decision after bad decision."

Last month, a San Fernando jury found McMann, of Chatsworth, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Charlotte Lenga during the commission of a robbery, burglary and carjacking.

The victim's husband, David Lenga, urged Greene to sentence McMann to the maximum penalty.

"He deprived my children and my grandchildren of their beloved mother and beloved grandmother," he said in court. "Her grievous murder left such an incredible void in our family's life."

McMann did not speak, but wrote a letter to the Lenga family in which he apologized and described himself as "a young man who happened to make a very bad decision."

McMann was arrested Dec. 15, 2000, after leading police helicopters and patrol cars on an hourlong chase that ended with Lenga's death in Encino. McMann's sport utility vehicle broadsided Lenga's car on White Oak Avenue near Miranda Street.

Lenga died at the scene. The collision was broadcast live on television.

Earlier, trying to evade police, McMann crashed a car into a ground-floor apartment in Panorama City, said Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. John F. Nantroup Jr.

McMann then forced his way into another apartment and stole a change of clothes and the sport utility vehicle from a woman and her two young children, Nantroup said. McMann drove that vehicle through the garage door and into a patrol car parked at the end of the driveway to block his escape.

"He smirked at the officers" as he pushed their car out of the way and continued to lead them on a chase at speeds of up to 95 mph, the prosecutor said.

"There is nothing here that shows any regard for other human beings," Nantroup said.

Deputy Public Defender Lisa-Marie Krause asked the judge to reduce McMann's mandatory life sentence to 25 years to life in prison. That request was denied.

Krause argued that sentencing the young man to life in prison was "cruel and unusual punishment" and violated the state and federal constitutions because it is disproportionate to the crimes.

"None of the crimes involved in this case were premeditated," she said. "They were impulsive."

In his one-page letter, McMann stated that he was a drug addict with "clouded" judgment at the time and "never had any intentions to hurt anybody let alone take someone's life."

"Now that I am thinking clearly, I replay that tragic moment in my mind, wishing I could have done something to have changed the outcome of this terrible accident," McMann wrote. "I am no animal. I'm just a young man who happened to make a very bad decision."

He said he feels remorse and sympathy for the Lenga family.

Outside the courthouse, the victim's eldest daughter, Helene Lenga Kohen, recalled her mother's strength and generosity.

Charlotte Lenga survived concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. In the year before her death, she was one of seven Holocaust survivors to sue Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and several German companies for compensation for the slave labor they allegedly provided to those firms while imprisoned.

Lenga lost her parents and a sister in the concentration camps, her daughter said, but insisted on returning to Europe eight years ago to visit the sites where her family members perished.

From her experience in the camps, Kohen said her mother learned the value of family and always put her husband, three daughters and seven grandchildren first.

"The sudden way she left us left a hole in our hearts forever," Kohen said.

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