LOS ANGELES (AP) – For all the carnage in those 20 seconds at a crowded farmer’s market – dozens of people run down, a driver who seemed to make no effort to avoid them – what happened next weighed on jurors’ minds as they convicted George Russell Weller on the toughest charges possible.

They remembered Weller’s taped interview with police right after the crash, which killed 10 people and injured more than 70. It was full of defenses for his actions and blame for his car – later found to have been operating normally – but light, in the jury’s view, on remorse.

Then there was the witness who claimed that Weller’s response to the crash was, “You saw me coming; why didn’t you get out of my way?”

“It was just the attitude,” Yolanda Hernandez said after she and fellow jurors convicted the 89-year-old man of 10 counts of felony manslaughter in the 2003 crash at the popular Santa Monica market.

Weller could face punishment ranging from probation to 18 years in state prison – a virtual death sentence.

The judge set a hearing next Friday to schedule a sentencing date, and prosecutors declined to say whether they would seek prison time.

Weller was not in court for the verdict. With the judge’s permission, the frail, white-haired defendant, who uses a wheelchair, attended only the trial’s opening statements. His attorney said he would appeal.

The crash set off a national debate over whether people should be allowed to continue to drive past a certain age and whether elderly drivers must submit to additional road and written tests when they renew their licenses.

His attorneys argued that he mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake and panicked when the vehicle raced into the open-air market. But prosecutors said he was careless to the point of criminal negligence and lacked remorse.

“He looked at what he had done, essentially shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Oops,”‘ prosecutor Ann Ambrose told the jury.

Weller was 86 when his 1992 Buick Le Sabre traveled about 300 yards, reaching 60 mph or more as it crashed into food stalls. It finally came to a stop after hitting a ditch, with one victim’s body tangled underneath and another’s draped across the hood. The victims ranged in age from 7 months to 78 years.

Weller did not testify, but jurors heard a taped interview with police immediately after the crash in which he said he tried everything he could think of to stop the car.

“I tried to take the control knob and jam it into park. Everything. Anything that I thought would stop the action of the car,” he said.

Hernandez, 54, of Montebello, said she and other jurors didn’t buy the argument that Weller couldn’t figure out how to stop his car.

“He had 240 feet before he came to the barricade for the farmer’s market. That’s a long way, and he went 1,000 feet before he stopped,” she said. “He still had plenty of time to react.”

Prosecutors alleged Weller drove toward people instead of cars parked on the street to avoid injuring himself.

Hernandez said jurors agreed from the first day of deliberations that Weller was guilty of vehicular manslaughter but had trouble deciding whether he had committed gross negligence, a felony, or misdemeanor simple negligence.

Asked Wednesday by the panel to provide the legal definition of gross negligence, Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson wrote that it meant “more than ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistake in judgment.”

Ambrose said Weller’s age wasn’t key to the prosecution’s case.

“It has been our position from the beginning that no matter if you’re 16 or 86, if you make the decision to get behind the wheel of a car, you have a duty of care,” she said.

A survivor who is suing over injuries he suffered in the crash said he didn’t want Weller locked up.

“There’s nothing pleasing about this whole event,” said Mark Miller, adding he had empathy for Weller as well as his fellow victims.

At Weller’s Santa Monica home Friday, the blinds were drawn and nobody answered the door. A neighbor, Fran Peskoff, said she was stunned by the verdict, adding there was “no way” Weller could have run over people on purpose.

“The real crime was that he was given a driver’s license,” she said.

Weller was allowed to remain free on his own recognizance until sentencing; a date for that hearing was to be set late next week. Meanwhile, he is prohibited from driving.


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