Crime & Justice

Redondo Beach crash: 4 victims die; driver pleads not guilty

Church goers pass by a makeshift memorial Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 near where a driver suspected of being intoxicated hit a group of pedestrians and another car outside a church as a Christmas service ended Wednesday night in Redondo Beach, Calif. Three people were killed and several others were injured including five children, police said. Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Redondo Beach police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.
Church goers pass by a makeshift memorial Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 near where a driver suspected of being intoxicated hit a group of pedestrians and another car outside a church as a Christmas service ended Wednesday night in Redondo Beach, Calif. Three people were killed and several others were injured including five children, police said. Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Redondo Beach police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.
Chris Carlson/AP
Church goers pass by a makeshift memorial Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 near where a driver suspected of being intoxicated hit a group of pedestrians and another car outside a church as a Christmas service ended Wednesday night in Redondo Beach, Calif. Three people were killed and several others were injured including five children, police said. Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Redondo Beach police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.
Martha Gaza, right, and her son, Samuel, were killed in Redondo Beach in a crash in which a suspected DUI driver plowed through a group of more than a dozen people in a crosswalk on Dec. 17, 2014.
Gaza Family via NBC4
Church goers pass by a makeshift memorial Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 near where a driver suspected of being intoxicated hit a group of pedestrians and another car outside a church as a Christmas service ended Wednesday night in Redondo Beach, Calif. Three people were killed and several others were injured including five children, police said. Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Redondo Beach police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.
A booking photo provided by the Redondo Beach Police Department shows Margo Bronstein, who was arrested on suspicion of felony vehicular manslaughter Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Redondo Beach Police Department


Update 5:46 p.m. Driver pleads not guilty in pedestrian deaths 

A woman accused of killing four people, including a 6-year-old boy, while running her car into pedestrians outside a California church appeared in court Friday cuffed to a gurney and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges.

An attorney for Margo Bronstein, 56, entered the plea on her behalf to four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter and one count of driving under the influence of a drug causing injury.

Bronstein was wheeled into court on the gurney by two attendants from an ambulance company. She was propped up with pillows and spoke only to her lawyer.

A judge ordered her held on $500,000 bail, the amount requested by prosecutors.

Bronstein's attorney Jeffrey Gray told the judge the collision appeared to be an accident, not intentional.

Outside court, Gray urged people not to jump to conclusions, noting the result of toxicology tests were not yet available and the cause of the incident was still unclear.

He said possibilities such as a malfunction of her specially equipped car, which has hand-controlled brakes, or an adverse reaction to her prescribed medication had not been ruled out.

"My concern is there tends to be a lot of, almost a mob mentality about this case," Gray said. "It's a tragedy. It's not fair to Miss Bronstein, it's not fair to the decedents' families to speculate as to happened."

He would not discuss any medication she might have taken. But the lawyer did say Bronstein "does not live her life recklessly."

He said she was brought to court on the gurney because she had been injured in the accident and because of disabilities she has had since birth.

Gray's attorney said she was not doing well in jail, where she was "a fish out of water."

"Two days ago, three days ago, people that knew her couldn't believe that she'd be in this situation," Gray said.

AP

Update 12:29 p.m. Driver charged after car crashes into crowd 

A 56-year-old woman has been charged with five felony counts for allegedly driving into a crowd outside a California church, killing four people including a 6-year-old boy.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office says Margo Bronstein is expected to be arraigned Friday. She is charged with four counts if gross vehicular manslaughter and one count of driving under the influence of a drug causing injury.

Five children and eight adults, including the suspect and the other driver, suffered injuries including broken bones, abrasions and head trauma in the crash Wednesday night. Four people, including a mother and her son, later died.

Bronstein faces up to 40 years in state prison if convicted of all the charges, according to Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles District Attorney's office.

Timothy Eakin, a man claiming to be a longtime friend of Bronstein's, told NBC4 that she has had multiple surgeries and takes muscle relaxants and pain medication, but Santiago told KPCC the felony complaint doesn't specify the type of drug Bronstein may have had in her system when she was driving.

Prosecutors will request that she be held on $500,000 bail.

— KPCC staff and AP

7:48 a.m. Redondo Beach crash: 4th victim, a 6-year-old boy, has died

A 6-year-old boy whose mother and two other women were killed when a motorist slammed into a crowd outside a California church has also died from his injuries, authorities said early Friday.

Samuel Gaza died late Thursday at a hospital, according to Los Angeles County coroner's Lt. David Smith.

Five children and eight adults, including the suspect and the other driver, suffered injuries including broken bones, abrasions and head trauma in the crash Wednesday night.

Authorities are investigating what led up to the woman driving through a red light and into nearly a dozen people as they left a church Christmas event in Redondo Beach.

Three adults later died, including the boy's mother, Martha Gaza, 36; along with Mary Anne Wilson, 81; and Saeko Matsumura, 87, all of Torrance

Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter and was expected to make her first court appearance either Friday or Monday, Redondo Beach police and Los Angeles County prosecutors said.

Authorities said they believed she had taken prescription drugs, but were awaiting the results of a toxicology test.

A message seeking comment left at a phone number listed for Bronstein was not immediately returned, and it wasn't immediately known if she has an attorney.

Officials said they do not have information linking her to any prior arrests or DUI-related incidents.

She had a perfect driving record but was restricted to driving a vehicle with hand-controlled brakes, an additional right-side mirror and adequate signaling device, according to Department of Motor Vehicle records.

The DMV had no record listing her as handicapped, however.

Friends and neighbors said she used crutches at times and a motorized wheelchair at longer distances, but they did not know why.

They said she is always friendly and deferential.

"She's very personable, very kind," Vanecia Wiley, a manager at the senior housing community where Bronstein lives, told the Los Angeles Times. "She doesn't want to be in anyone's way."

Dulce Mojarro, 34, met Bronstein two years ago at Disneyland and said the two would sometimes meet up at the park, which Bronstein loved.

"She is like one of those kids that never wanted to grow up," Mojarro told the Times. "I would tell her, 'You have that child in you like Peter Pan.'"

The pedestrians on Wednesday night had just attended a student Christmas program at St. James Catholic Church when the motorist sped around the other vehicles in a white Saturn sedan and plowed into the crowd before hitting another car head-on, police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.

Alan Wells, who lives in the apartment building at the corner, heard the crash and ran outside.

"I saw people lying all over the street, and people in the crosswalk were screaming and yelling," he told the Daily Breeze.

One boy who was struck was flung across the intersection, ending up beneath an SUV's tire, according to witnesses.

"The car is on the little boy. And we finally rolled it off the little boy. He had a little tie on. It was scary. It looked like he was in heaven at that point," Michael Tovar told KTTV.

It was unclear whether that injured boy was Samuel Gaza.

AP

This story has been updated.