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Paparazzi Not a Factor in Accident

Authorities say actress Lindsay Lohan was not being pursued by celebrity photographers when her Mercedes struck a van Tuesday.

October 06, 2005|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators said Wednesday that they do not believe celebrity photographers caused Lindsay Lohan to crash her Mercedes-Benz into a van in West Hollywood, contradicting a statement by the teenage actress' publicist.

A preliminary investigation showed that the paparazzi were not a factor in Tuesday's collision, said Lt. Keith Swensson. "Photographers were not involved, not at all," he said. The official cause has not been determined.

The van's driver was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries, authorities said, and Lohan and a passenger suffered minor injuries.

The crash on Robertson Boulevard near the Beverly Center occurred just blocks from where the actress was rammed by a paparazzo earlier this year. That incident led to a criminal investigation and a new state law allowing stiff fines against paparazzi who commit assaults in an effort to shoot celebrity photos.

Within seconds of Lohan broadsiding the van on its passenger side, at least two celebrity photographers were snapping images of the distressed actress, witnesses said.

But Swensson said authorities are considering whether the driver of the van, which was southbound on Robertson, made an illegal U-turn in front of Lohan's Mercedes, which was northbound. "The only person who is likely to be cited in this case is the van driver," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. "Lindsay Lohan is an innocent victim in all of this."

Although investigators downplayed the connection between the paparazzi and the crash, witnesses said Lohan had been followed by celebrity photographers earlier as she lunched and then shopped in the upscale area that's filled with trendy boutiques and restaurants. And according to one person familiar with the incident, Lohan was aware of a photographer following her in an SUV moments before the accident.

On Tuesday night, Lohan's publicist, Leslie Sloane Zelnick, issued a statement calling the crash "another example of the paparazzi endangering citizens, both Ms. Lohan and the other driver involved in the collision." Sloane Zelnick did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment on sheriff's investigators' statements.

According to witnesses, Lohan -- the star of such films as "Mean Girls" and "Herbie: Fully Loaded" -- was behind the wheel when a maroon Chevy Astrovan made a U-turn in front of her shortly before 5 p.m.

The van, which was driven by an employee of the Newsroom Cafe, was trying to pull into a parking space when it was struck and propelled into a larger van, authorities said. "It was a very violent crash," said witness Katherine Starr, 50, of New Orleans. "It was such a loud impact, it was explosive."

Starr added that Lohan was "just flying down the street."

In the aftermath, Lohan and her female passenger ran into a nearby antiques store. The van's driver stumbled into the street and was helped by Newsroom Cafe employees, witnesses said.

In an interview Wednesday with television show "Access Hollywood," the driver, Raymundo Ortega, 40, said Lohan did not approach him to check on his condition after the crash. He said he hoped the actress would have a change of heart and call him about his condition.

Ortega, who was on his way to work, said he did not recognize the actress but said she was driving very fast and came out of nowhere.

Ortega also told the celebrity news show in an interview conducted in Spanish that he was not at fault and that there were no cars pursuing Lohan.

Four months ago in the same neighborhood, Lohan's car was rammed by a van driven by a celebrity photographer who was later arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. The incident gave rise to a Los Angeles district attorney's office probe into the legality of paparazzi tactics. Prosecutors are still considering whether to charge photographer Galo Ramirez in the May 19 incident.

That crash led to the passage of the new state law, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

Arnold Cousart, owner of the JFX photo agency, said Tuesday's collision shows "yet again, we are being made scapegoats."

He said the stretch of Robertson Boulevard where the crash occurred is well known as the place for celebrities to go to get snapped by photographers. "Lindsay taunts the photographers," he said, denying that any paparazzi were near the collision.

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