Elderly Man Involved in Market Crash May Have Been Fleeing Accident

Investigators believe an elderly driver who crashed through a crowded farmers market (search), killing 10 people, may have been speeding away from the scene of a collision at the time.

Russell Weller (search), 86, might have hit a Mercedes after leaving a post office, then fled less than a block west toward the street market, said Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the California Highway Patro (search)l. Details about the Mercedes crash were not immediately available.

"We're trying to do two things: determine first of all that he hit the Mercedes, and two, what his motivation was for leaving if he did hit it," Marshall said. "He could have been confused, he could have been scared and tried to get away, we just don't know at this point."

Like Weller's Buick sedan, the Mercedes has been impounded and is being examined, Marshall said.

Weller's attorney, Jim Bianco, released a statement Wednesday saying the farmers market crash was an accident. He and another attorney for Weller did not return calls for comment Friday.

Police have said Weller told them he didn't realize until too late that Arizona Avenue, crammed with pedestrians and produce Wednesday, was closed to traffic. They said Weller believes he might have hit the gas instead of the brake as he tried to stop.

Witnesses said Weller's car sped down the entire length of the open-air market, knocking down stalls, scattering produce and hitting as many as 50 people. Ten victims, ranging in age from 7 months to 78 years, were killed.

The market was reopening Saturday, with a memorial service for the victims.

"The market will go on as planned," city spokeswoman Judy Rambo said. Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and local religious leaders were to speak.

At least 13 people remained hospitalized Friday, three of them in critical condition. Officials at two of the hospitals where victims were taken did not immediately return calls seeking the number of patients still in their care.

Marshall said it could take weeks for the CHP and Santa Monica authorities to complete their investigation. Santa Monica police Lt. Frank Fabrega said his department wasn't releasing any information about the investigation.