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Driver in Crash That Killed 10 `Looked Angry'

A witness testifies that George Weller appeared to be in control of his car as it hit pedestrians.

September 15, 2006|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

A skateboarder who had feared he would be run down by an elderly driver at an open air market in Santa Monica testified Thursday that George Weller looked intent and in control as he drove his car toward hundreds of pedestrians.

Alexander Mercer, testifying in blue jeans and shirttails, told jurors that he had been talking to a homeless man on July 16, 2003, seconds before Weller ran the man down.

"He was friendly, he was saying hello to people and asking for money," Mercer said.

He was Leroy Lattier, 55, who died on the pavement.

Witnesses described chaos and carnage, bodies flying through the air, when Weller, now 89, drove through the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Ten people were killed, and more than 60 were injured.

Weller did not attend the trial Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he faces 10 charges of manslaughter.

The defense contends that the deaths were accidental and that Weller, old and confused, mistook the gas pedal on his 1992 Buick for the brake.

"I saw the driver correct the car so as not to collide with cars on the south side of the street," Mercer testified. "He overcorrected, and I thought he was going to hit me. He corrected the wheel to go straight down Arizona. Then he corrected again. I knew there was no way he could avoid impact with this guy on crutches who I'd just spoken with.

"His hands were on the wheel," Mercer said. "He was in control of the car."

Defense attorney Mark Overland objected to Mercer's conclusion, and Judge Michael Johnson instructed jurors to ignore it.

Mercer testified that he saw Weller turn the wheel three times to correct his trajectory and heard him accelerate three times and decelerate twice.

"To me he looked enraged," Mercer said, drawing another objection, which Johnson overruled. "He looked angry. His eyes were open. He looked like he was baring his teeth."

Overland suggested that Mercer's account Thursday was more complete and specific than his statement to police 15 minutes after the incident.

"There were ambulances coming from every direction. There were people moving in every direction. There were a lot of injured, bloodied, broken people. There were police going in every direction," Mercer said. "There were helicopters, sirens, a lot of commotion."

Vilma Causey, a farmer who sold goods at the market, dissolved into tears when asked to relate what happened.

She saw "a red car, coming on so fast."

"He was coming so fast, I saw two people go up in the air," she said, then wept openly.

Causey testified that she never heard Weller sound a horn, nor did she see brake lights on his car.

It was a key point for the defense, which contends the motorist was so disoriented that he didn't realize his foot was on the accelerator, not the brake.

"I just saw the car going and striking everybody," Causey testified. "The car just kept on going."

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john.spano@latimes.com

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