L.A. Now

Christmas concert crash: Driver pleads not guilty to five felony counts

Driver pleads not guilty in deadly crash after Christmas concert in Redondo Beach

A Redondo Beach woman accused of felony gross vehicular manslaughter for allegedly plowing into a crowd of people leaving a Christmas concert Wednesday night, killing four people, including a 6-year-old boy, has pleaded not guilty.

Margo Bronstein, 56, of Redondo Beach, was wheeled into a Torrance courtroom on a stretcher and arraigned Friday on four felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one felony count of being under the influence of a drug, causing injuries.

She’s due back in court Jan. 14 and is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail -- a sum her attorney unsuccessfully opposed.

"This is one event, and it seems like bail is being stacked," said Jeffrey Gray, Bronstein’s attorney.

After the hearing, Gray addressed reporters outside the Torrance courthouse and said it seemed that everyone was jumping to conclusions about Bronstein and the crash.

"My concern is that there seems to be almost a mob mentality with this case," he said. "We should not engage in speculation -- it's not fair to any of the parties involved."

He said there were many facets that needed to be explored with the case, including the possibility of mechanical failures in Bronstein's car or an adverse reaction to her prescription medications. He would not elaborate on either point.

"Obviously she feels terrible," he said. "This is an accident."

The criminal complaint against Bronstein also says she caused great bodily injury to Maria Quast; John Fasano; and Glenn, Angela and Maggie Gaza. The three Gazas -- a man and his two daughters -- were the surviving members of a five-member family struck by the car. Martha Gaza, 36, and her 6-year-old son, Samuel, were killed.

Authorities said Bronstein was behind the wheel of the car that ran through a crowd outside St. James Catholic Church in Redondo Beach. Prosecutors allege she swerved around vehicles stopped at a red light before striking the crowd.

If convicted of the charges, she could face 40 years in prison.

Samuel Gaza, 6, died overnight Friday at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said Lt. David Smith of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. He suffered head trauma and a bruised lung.

Torrance residents Mary Ann Wilson, 81, and Saeko Matsumura, 87, also died in the crash. Eight others, including the three surviving members of the Gaza family, were hurt.

Redondo Beach police said they believed Bronstein was under the influence of prescription medication but have declined to say what type of drug. Police said results from a toxicology test were not yet available.

The criminal complaint did not mention what type of drug Bronstein is accused of being under the influence of. Bronstein, who friends said relied on a motorized wheelchair, had a clean driving history. She was restricted to driving a car with hand-controlled brakes, authorities said.

The deputy district attorney who filed the complaint against Bronstein, meanwhile, has herself admitted injuring two people in a drunk driving accident.

Los Angeles County prosecutor Marilyn Seymour was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ended up serving five days following a 2010 collision in Long Beach, according to records posted by the State Bar. A blood test showed that Seymour had a blood alcohol content of .26%, more than three times the legal limit, according to the document.

Two people in the car that Seymour rear-ended settled a lawsuit against her for $1.2 million. Along with receiving a private reproval from the State Bar, Seymour was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to complete a nine-month alcohol education program. She’s been a member of the state bar since 1985.

A district attorney's office press release about Bronstein's charges cited information from Seymour about the case and said she was requesting that Bronstein be held on $500,000 bail. Seymour was listed on the complaint as the prosecutor who filed the charges.

District attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said her office did not see any problems with having Seymour file the case against Bronstein. She noted that Seymour will not be the attorney handling the case in court. 

"She’s a seasoned prosecutor," Robison said. "She reviewed the evidence  and filed the case that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in the court of law."

For breaking news, follow @josephserna, @smasunaga  @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5:40 p.m.: This post was updated with qutoes from Bronstein's attorney and information about the prosecutor who filed the charges.

4:17 p.m.: This post was updated with information from Friday's arraignment.

1:16 p.m.: This post was updated to add the names of additional victims in the crash, as well as details about the charges against Margo Bronstein.

12:17 p.m. This post was updated to add more information about suspect Margo Bronstein and the charges against her.

The first version of this article was published at 11:56 a.m.

75°