Driver Described as Caring, Mentally Sharp

Friendly, caring and mentally sharp is how residents of Russell Weller's neighborhood described the man police say ran down scores of people at an open-air market.

"A more careful, gentle, loving person you'll never find," said Mary Roney, who has lived two doors down from Weller for more than 30 years in a neighborhood of stately, cottage-style homes, where citrus trees sprout from closely cropped lawns.

Eight people were killed and more than 40 injured at the city's farmers market Wednesday when Weller's maroon Buick came roaring through the street where market stalls had been set up.

Police Chief James T. Butts (search) said the elderly driver told authorities he had just left the post office when he lost control of his car, apparently hitting the gas instead of the brake.

Butts initially declined to give the man's name, but he was identified through state Department of Motor Vehicles records and residents of the neighborhood.

"There's no better person in the world and no person that would be more devastated from this," Roney said.

Although Weller is 86 and walks with a cane, she and other friends said he had no history of driving problems and no apparent physical or mental impairments.

"You'll never find a more alert 80 in the world," Roney said. "We can discuss anything from religion to politics and back again. Very astute. That's why there's got to be some off-the-wall explanation for this. Whatever it was, there's no way it could be premeditated."

Lydia Kraske, who has known Weller and his family for 34 years, said when her son was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (search), Weller used to drive him to the bus stop. She added that her son told her how much he enjoyed the time the two spent together.

"He always used to say, 'Mr. Weller is a very intelligent man,'" she said.

He also is thoughtful, Kraske added, noting how she once retrieved his paper when the delivery person missed the porch and he responded by bringing her a flower.

She said he had undergone a hip operation several years ago, but added that it didn't seem to affect his driving.

"He took his wife to church every Sunday," she said.

Weller, white-haired and with a thick white mustache, declined to talk with reporters as he left the police station Wednesday.

Roney said he is active in the Presbyterian Church and his community, having served on the local library board and tutored students at Santa Monica High School (search).

A grandfather and great-grandfather, he loves politics and geography, according to friends.

"He's a Democrat, I'm a Republican, so we would laugh about it," Kraske said.