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Weller Pleads Not Guilty in Market Crash

By Lookout Staff

December 8 -- George Russell Weller, the elderly driver whose fatal drive through a crowded Farmers Market last year left ten dead and 63 injured, pleaded innocent Wednesday to ten felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

The plea comes one month after defense attorneys argued that the 88-year-old driver mistakenly stepped on the gas instead of the brake, reaching speeds of as high as 60 miles an hour. The July 16, 2003 crash, they contend, was an accident.

"This was a tragedy of absolutely horrible proportions,” defense attorney Jim Bianco argued at the November 3 hearing. “But the scale of a tragedy does not justify criminal prosecution."

Prosecutors, who filed the charges against Weller January 5, countered that the incident was a crime.

"He sent sixty-three people to the hospital and ten people to the morgue,” Deputy District Attorney Ann Ambrose said at last month’s hearing. “That is not merely a tragedy. That is a crime."

Weller, who has been free on bail on the condition he not drive, released a statement days after the crash saying he was distraught and heartbroken..

In additional to the crimal case, wrongful death lawsuits have also been filed against both Weller and the City on behalf of the in the dead victims, who ranged in age from 7 months to 78 years old.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the City for failing to post a barrier that would have kept Weller's 1992 Buick LeSabre from entering Arizona Avenue during the Wednesday market.

Police Chief James T. Butts Jr. has called Weller’s conduct "at best" negligent and asked that he be charged with manslaughter.

"Mr. Weller was conscious throughout the collision sequence, no evidence exists that Mr. Weller attempted to take the car out of gear, there is no indication of braking throughout the entire collision sequence," Butts said at a news conference last December.

A nearly six-month long investigation, which involved hundreds of witnesses, resulted in a 917-page report that found the crash was primarily caused by "unsafe speed" and that there were "no contributing vehicle or environmental factors."

If convicted on all counts, Weller could face anything from probation to 18 years in prison, according to the district attorney's office.

The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for January 26.

News wires contributed to this report

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