YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The State

Attias Sent to Mental Hospital

Trial: Driver who killed four near UC Santa Barbara had been found insane by a jury. Judge commits him to facility in San Bernardino.


SANTA BARBARA — The David Attias murder trial came to an emotional end Friday with a judge's tearful condolences and an order committing the onetime UC Santa Barbara student to a state mental hospital.

Attias, who killed four pedestrians last year by driving his car into a crowd in Isla Vista near campus, will remain at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino indefinitely, trying to overcome delusions so severe that a new report said he had come to believe that "the world was a computer game."

The former UC Santa Barbara freshman, who raged at bystanders after the crash last year that he was the "angel of death," was judged legally insane last month by a Santa Barbara jury.

On Friday, he sat quietly in a blue sweater and wire-rim glasses as Superior Court Judge Thomas Adams called the case a tragedy "that has touched hearts throughout the nation."

The jury on June 12 convicted Attias, 20, of four counts of second-degree murder, later ruling him insane and setting the stage for formal commitment to the San Bernardino facility.

While noting that he would have sentenced Attias to the maximum possible sentence of 60 years to life in prison if the defendant had been found sane, Adams expressed sympathy for Attias and his family, as well as for the families and loved ones of the victims.

"I wanted to say to the parents of the victims, each of you have constantly been in my prayers since that night" of the accident, Adams said, tears beginning to well in his eyes. "The same holds true for the family of David Attias."

Turning and looking at Attias, the judge concluded: "Good luck to you, Mr. Attias."

The jury's verdict of insanity outraged many of the relatives of the four people killed. They had hoped for life in prison, and expressed fear that he could get out of a mental hospital much sooner.

Although Attias technically could begin to seek release in only six months, defense lawyers Jack Earley and Nancy Haydt said he more likely will spend most, if not all, of his life in a mental facility. Many mental health and legal experts agree, saying a community release, even years from now, would have to be approved by a judge.

"His hopes and dreams are over now for any kind of a life outside an institution," Earley said Friday. "But at least this gives him some hope."

Before Friday's commitment, Adams had ordered mental health officials to evaluate Attias. The officials reported back to the court that in a June 25 interview Attias had seemed lucid and aware that he needed help.

On medications since 11, Attias said he had stopped taking anti-psychotic drugs because he wanted to be like other students. He acknowledged that he had become delusional before the crash, the report said.

"He believed the world was a computer game and began to receive messages from music and TV shows," the report added.

It was 11:08 on a Friday night--Feb. 23, 2001--when Attias drove his Saab down Sabado Tarde Road in the college community of Isla Vista, smashing into the crowd of pedestrians.

Those killed were Elie Israel, 27; and Christopher Divis, Ruth Levy and Nicholas Bourdakis, all 20. A fifth victim, Albert Levy, suffered serious injuries but recovered.

Sanity was an issue from the beginning of the trial, during which more than 100 witnesses testified, many of them saying the youth's mental troubles had started in early childhood.

As a boy, therapists testified, Attias would pound his head against walls in anger. He tried to strangle his younger sister when he was 13, they said. Ultimately, he received diagnoses ranging from attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder to budding schizophrenia.

His father, a successful television director, testified during the first phase of the trial in late May, taking much of the blame for ignoring years of warning signs that his son was in serious trouble. He also said his wife had withdrawn from the boy's problems when he was young.

"I always hoped that everything was evolving and changing and that he could move through it," Daniel Attias told the jury. "My goal was always for him to get better."

Despite his problems, David Attias was admitted to UC Santa Barbara. But he was failing both academically and socially, and he had asked his father if he could transfer to a community college. His father resisted, later testifying that it was one of many decisions he regretted.

Meanwhile, the freshman's problems were increasing. He substituted marijuana and cocaine for the medications he was supposed to be taking. Fellow students said he became delusional.

He had two auto accidents, only to be given a new car--the high-powered Saab--by his father.

"It turned out to be a horrific, horrific mistake," the father said.

Los Angeles Times Articles