Judge Says Santa Monica Isn't Responsible For Market Car Crash

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The city of Santa Monica should not be held responsible for a July 2003 accident in which an elderly motorist plowed into a crowded farmer's market, killing 10 people and injuring 63 others, a judge ruled.

About 50 victims and relatives allege in a civil lawsuit that the city failed to protect them when 89-year-old George Russell Weller drove into the market, slamming his vehicle into dozens of people.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Valerie Baker ruled Monday the city is immune from liability because its traffic plan for the market was reasonable and had been approved by a certified traffic engineer.

The victims' attorneys said they will appeal, arguing the traffic engineer had no experience with road closures when he approved the plan 19 years ago.

"He didn't do the right thing," said attorney Geoff Wells.

Weller has pleaded not guilty to 10 felony counts of vehicular manslaughter, claiming he accidentally stepped on the gas rather than the brake during the July 16, 2003, crash. Weller is scheduled to stand trial in September.

The city has been faulted by federal transportation regulators for using inadequate safety precautions and an outdated traffic plan that did not comply with national, state or city guidelines.

The city is devising a permanent traffic plan and has replaced wood barricades around the market with police cars.