A murder charge was filed Wednesday against a man who crashed while allegedly driving drunk and at high speed Sunday night, killing his wife and critically injuring four others, just three days after completing a court-ordered drunk driving treatment program.
Harry Bouboushian, 34, of Los Angeles was arraigned Wednesday in downtown Municipal Court on one count of murder, one count of vehicular manslaughter and two counts of felony drunk driving.
Judge David S. Milton set bail of $500,000 at the request of Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Oscodar. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 1.
Police estimate that Bouboushian's blood-alcohol level was 0.15, 50% above the level at which the law presumes a driver intoxicated, when he lost control of his vehicle on Los Feliz Boulevard on his way home from a party with seven passengers.
Also on Wednesday, Los Angeles police officers served a search warrant on a school for drunk drivers in Van Nuys at which Bouboushian had completed a court-ordered program only last week.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said police searched the Driver Safety Schools on Van Nuys Boulevard in hopes of finding records of Bouboushian's treatment in the alcohol diversion program.
A school spokeswoman said school officials would not comment.
Bouboushian, owner of an Inglewood body shop, had two previous drunk driving convictions and had completed court-ordered attendance at the school only three days before the accident, police said. District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Bouboushian also had six outstanding tickets for speeding, one in excess of 100 m.p.h.
Police said Bouboushian was exceeding 100 m.p.h. as he drove his 1988 BMW west on Los Feliz Boulevard just before 11 p.m. He lost control just west of Vermont Avenue. The car severed a light standard, became airborne and hit two parked cars, including a Cadillac, before it landed.
Bouboushian's car "crushed the Cadillac like it was a toy," said Detective Lee Prentiss of the Los Angeles Police Department. The passengers, all of whom were thrown from the BMW during the crash, were family members and other guests who had sought rides home from the party.
"Why all seven aren't dead, I don't know," Prentiss said.
The survivors were transported to six area hospitals. On life support systems were Arthur Bezekian, 14, and Asmik Avetisian, 31.
Souzanna Aidadetian, 31, and Kakag Hampartsoumaian, 39, remained in critical condition Wednesday.
Bouboushian's two sons, Alan and Armond, ages 10 and 7 respectively, also were injured. Alan suffered a broken leg and Armond was treated for bumps and bruises and sent home.
Armine Karapetian, Bouboushian's wife, was killed.
A spokesman for the National Council on Alcoholism, which oversees court-ordered driving schools, said it would not be surprising that Bouboushian could be released from such a program and still have a drinking problem.
Generally, rehabilitation programs consist of educational, discussion and self-help components, said Clint Haas of the Alcoholism Council. Second offenders such as Bouboushian may take part in individual counseling as well.
But alcohol testing is not allowed, Haas said.
"There's no clear way for a program to know what a person is doing outside of being there," he said. Programs have no idea about what participants "do on Friday and Saturday night as long as they don't get arrested. They can come back next week and say, 'I had a great weekend.' "
Another problem, Haas said, is that judges sentence drunk drivers, whose problems with alcohol vary widely, to the same programs.
"A person gets in not because of their evaluation but because a judge sentenced them to it," he said. Most of these people end up in "a blanket program" not necessarily suited to their individual alcohol problems, he said.
The office manager of Bouboushian's body shop characterized her boss as a good man who ran his business in a hands-on manner.
Jennifer Constantin said Bouboushian "worked every day. I worked with him. I never saw him come in here drunk."
Adding that she and Bouboushian were friends as well as co-workers, Constantin said she knew Bouboushian drank. "He is not the kind of person who gets drunk very easily," she said.
Bouboushian was first arrested for drunk driving in 1983 after police stopped him in Beverly Hills, Prentiss said. He was convicted of misdemeanor drunk driving later that year and granted probation.
His second conviction came last year after a March arrest in Los Angeles. He was convicted in November, granted probation and told to complete his second alcohol rehabilitation program, Prentiss said. Friday, he did.
The case is similar to an alcohol-related fatality that recently went to trial.
In December, 1987, Aram Barsumyan's car collided head-on with another vehicle while speeding down Los Feliz Boulevard. Three people died in the crash and Barsumyan--who like Bouboushian is an immigrant from the Soviet Union with a previous record of drunk driving--was charged with murder.
During his trial, Barsumyan testified that he was not drunk at the time of the accident. A Pasadena Superior Court jury last month convicted him of manslaughter, but deadlocked on second-degree murder charges.