Trial began Tuesday, September 12, in the criminal manslaughter case against George Russell Weller, who drove through the downtown Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona Ave. in July 2003, leaving 10 people dead and more than 60 injured.
In opening statements in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Ambrose said the case is much more than an accident, as she prosecutes 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter, while defense lawyer Mark A. Borenstein submitted that the case was a terribly tragic accident. The trial had been continued several times before getting underway this week. Weller, now 89, was present in a wheelchair as trial began, but did not return after the lunch break and has been excused from regular attendance for health reasons.
Civil damage actions arising out of the deaths and injuries are pending in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, West District, in Santa Monica, and are scheduled for trial in January 2007. Most legal claims against the City of Santa Monica in that case have been dismissed on summary judgment, but that decision is pending review before the state Supreme Court.
Southland Farmers’ Market Association, an organization of participating farmers, has also been dismissed from the civil case on summary judgment. Step Up on Second, a nonprofit that placed traffic markers, has settled. All claims remain pending against Bayside District Corporation, the organization of downtown businesses, and Weller.