Tags: Not | Licensed | Kill

Not Licensed to Kill

Wednesday, 06 September 2006 12:00 AM

George Russell Weller is 89 years old. He does not have a criminal record. He told police he had no idea how the car he was driving three years ago accelerated through a crowded farmers market, striking and killing 10 people and injuring 60 more before it finally came to a stop.

He spoke of the "poor people" he hurt, and of how he should have listened to his wife and never driven to the post office to mail that letter. He just wanted his niece, who was getting married that weekend, to get the card.

Jury selection begins today.

George Russell Weller is being charged with 10 counts of manslaughter.

"I'm in big trouble with my heart and soul," Weller said three years ago when, after three hours of interrogation, the police declined at that time to arrest him. "That you can't fix."

He has lived in the same house in Santa Monica, Calif., for 52 years. He hardly leaves home anymore.

He is not expected to testify at the trial and has invoked the fifth amendment in the civil suits. His insurance company has already paid out the limits of his insurance to a fund for victims.

The District Attorney argues that criminal responsibility is appropriate as well. "This is a case about accepting responsibility and public accountability. Mr. Weller needs to take responsibility for his actions, and the victims and their families need to come to court and be heard," said Deputy District Attorney Ann Ambrose.

Clashing experts will testify as to whether this was a case of what is called "pedal error," where drivers confuse the gas and brake pedals, a phenomenon much more common among older drivers, while the lawyers debate whether this is enough to amount to criminal negligence.

There is conflicting testimony as to whether Weller said anything coherent after his car came to a stop. Two witnesses are reportedly expected to testify that the defendant said something about how people should have gotten out of his way, although it's not clear what that proves.

The prosecuting attorney told reporters that, while the transcript suggests a confused, troubled, disoriented old man, the videotape of the interrogation presents a "more probative" picture.

Both sides describe Weller as "intent" and "focused" as he drove along, though they strongly disagree as to what that means, with the prosecution suggesting that it means he could have stopped at any time and the defense arguing that it supports his sensation that he was "a passenger in a runaway vehicle."

There is already one 93-year-old among the 161,000 inmates in the California correctional system. If he is convicted and imprisoned, George Russell Weller would, at 89, become the second oldest prisoner in the system.

Now that he is no longer driving, Weller is obviously a danger to no one. But as prisoners go, he is among the most expensive. The state would be fully responsible for his safety and his healthcare, potentially for the rest of his life. If convicted on all 10 manslaughter counts, the maximum penalty is 18 years in prison. Even if jurors reduce the crime to misdemeanor manslaughter, the punishment is six months in jail per count, which could be served either consecutively (which would amount to five years) or concurrently (which would just be six months).

In a way, of course, Mr. Weller is a victim, too. Someone should have taken his license away before this happened. Respect for the elderly doesn't mean letting them drive. Independence doesn't have to mean a license. Mr. Weller had already hit one car (just cosmetic, it is said, which is not what I might say if it were my car) on his way to the tragedy.

If someone can't see straight and can't keep their feet straight, they shouldn't be driving. The fact that seniors have more political clout than any other group should not keep them on the road.

If this case serves any useful purpose, it should not be to lead us to put more seniors in prison, but to take more off the road. No one knows better when it's time for a senior to stop driving than their family and friends - and their family doctor. You can't rely on a two-minute driving test - it's too easy to feign confidence. It's up to the family, and to the family doctor, to do what's right. For the sake of the driver. And the "poor people." Because in the end, there are some things the law just can't fix.

COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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George Russell Weller is 89 years old. He does not have a criminal record. He told police he had no idea how the car he was driving three years ago accelerated through a crowded farmers market, striking and killing 10 people and injuring 60 more before it finally...
Not,Licensed,Kill
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2006-00-06
Wednesday, 06 September 2006 12:00 AM
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