Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Community mourns market victims

July 18, 2003

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— Lynne Ann Weaver, who married into a celebrity family, liked to go to the farmers market with co-workers to buy produce for her husband to cook.

Gloria Olivera Gonzalez, a struggling immigrant from Mexico, cleaned an office to make extra money before going for vegetables to serve her children for dinner.

Weaver and Olivera Gonzalez were among those killed Wednesday when a car driven by an 86-year-old man smashed through Santa Monica's eclectic farmers market, striking more than 50 people from virtually all walks of life in the oceanside community.

The death toll rose to 10 Thursday when 7 1/2-month-old Brendon Esfahani died. He and a 3-year-old girl were the youngest victims; the oldest was 78.

Twenty people remained hospitalized Thursday, with five in critical condition.

The tragedy devastated Santa Monica, where rich and poor are drawn to the vibrant street life and sweeping beaches.

The market, a twice-weekly tradition that attracts celebrity chefs and homemakers alike, is known throughout Southern California.

Police were deciding Thursday whether to charge Russell Weller, the driver of the 1992 Buick LeSabre involved in the crash.

Police say Weller told them he didn't realize until too late that the street crammed with pedestrians and produce was closed.

He said he might have hit the gas instead of the brake as he tried to avoid the crowd.

Police Chief James T. Butts Jr. said officers who searched Weller's home found evidence indicating he had recently run into the back of his garage at least twice.

A friend of Weller's, Chuck Morrell, told KABC-TV of Los Angeles that the elderly man had crashed the Buick about 10 years ago. The vehicle had ended up on top of a 3-foot-high retaining wall at Weller's home, Morrell said.

Weller's attorney, Jim Bianco, has said Wednesday's crash was a tragic accident and that Weller's thoughts were with the victims.

Olivera Gonzalez had come to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago and struggled to support her family, said her sister-in-law Maria Martinez.

Olivera Gonzalez lived in the Venice area of Los Angeles with her husband, a 9-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. "Her dream in life was to give her family the best," Martinez said.

Along with Brendon, Olivera Gonzalez and Weaver, those killed were Cindy Palacios Valladeres, 3, of Los Angeles; Molok Ghoulian, 62, of Los Angeles; Movsha Hoffman, 78, of Santa Monica; Leroy Lattier, 55, no city given; Kevin McCarthy, 50; and his wife, Diana Y. McCarthy, 41, of Los Angeles.

The name of one victim -- a 50-year-old woman -- was withheld pending notification of relatives.

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