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Witness describes scene of screenwriter's crash

A former D.A. who came upon the wreck says Roger Avary was distraught and slurring. A passenger died.

January 15, 2008|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary was trying to revive his wife in the middle of the road when a witness came upon his smashed-up car on a rural state highway near Ojai.

"He was yelling, 'Don't die, Gretchen! Don't die!,' " said former Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, one of the first witnesses on the scene after the single-car crash early Sunday that left one man dead and Avary's wife, Gretchen, seriously injured.

Authorities say Avary, 42, who co-wrote "Pulp Fiction," was drunk at the wheel of his Mercedes sedan, traveling east, when the car crossed over the roadway and plowed into a telephone pole outside Ojai Lumber at 1900 E. Ojai Ave.

Andrea Zini, 34, of Modena, Italy, was in the passenger seat when the right side of the vehicle slammed into the pole, sheriff's officials said. Zini died a few hours later at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.

Avary's wife, 40, was listed in stable condition at Ojai Valley Community Hospital late Monday.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Avary on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving. He posted $50,000 bail and is set to be arraigned Friday.

The screenwriter, reached at his Ojai home Monday, declined to comment. But in a statement released by his publicist, he sent condolences to Zini's family.

"Words cannot express how sorry he is, and this tragic accident will always haunt him," the statement said.

Zini and his wife, both residents of Italy, were in Ojai for a visit, said James Baroni, Ventura County's chief deputy medical examiner. Zini's wife was not in the car. An autopsy Monday showed that Zini died of blunt force injuries to his chest and stomach, Baroni said.

Sheriff's officials declined to release Avary's blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash, citing the continuing investigation. But Baroni said speed may have been a factor. On Monday, long black skid marks traced the Mercedes' path across the road at a point where the roadway sweeps right before straightening out.

"It looks like he was driving too fast and lost control of the car on the curve," Baroni said.

Bradbury said he and his wife were being driven home from a dinner party just after midnight when they spotted a cloud of dust settling around Avary's vehicle. Bradbury asked his driver to pull over and rushed to see what had happened.

"It was like it had been T-boned," Bradbury said of the late-model Mercedes. When Bradbury asked if there was anyone else in the car, Avary was distraught and appeared to slur his words, he said.

"He wasn't speaking real clearly. I assumed at that point he had something to drink," he said.

Bradbury noticed a man in the passenger seat who appeared to be struggling to breathe. Zini had to be extricated from the vehicle, authorities said. Bradbury, who was Ventura County's district attorney for 24 years before retiring in 2002, said he left the site shortly after deputies arrived.

"It's sobering, no matter how many of those you go to, and I went to quite a lot as a young prosecutor," he said of the accident scene.

Avary was 28 when he and Quentin Tarantino won the Oscar for best original screenplay for "Pulp Fiction." Avary also wrote and directed the 2002 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel "The Rules of Attraction," and last year co-wrote and produced the animated "Beowulf."

He and his wife live in Ojai. The city of 8,000, about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, is a mecca for Hollywood actors, screenwriters and producers.

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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