Fistell Offers Sympathy to Family of Crash Victim : Courts: Talk show host, charged with a felony for leaving the scene, emphasizes he was not responsible for the crash.


Speaking publicly for the first time since the fatal traffic collision last month for which he has been charged with a felony for leaving the scene of an accident, veteran radio talk show host Ira Fistell said Friday that he felt bad for the teen-ager who was killed but emphasized that he was not to blame.

“My heart goes out to the victim’s family,” said Fistell, speaking to reporters at the Criminal Courts Building in Downtown Los Angeles. “It was a terrible accident, a tragic accident. But I want to emphasize that I did not cause that accident.”

Fistell, 53, had been due to be arraigned Friday morning for leaving the scene of the two-car collision without notifying authorities that he was one of the drivers. Fistell’s wife, Tonda, 54, has also been charged with a felony for allegedly aiding and abetting him--by informing police that she was the driver even though she did not arrive until after the accident.


After a delay caused by an unrelated bomb threat at the courthouse, Fistell’s arraignment was postponed because his criminal lawyer had to depart for a case elsewhere. Fistell and his wife, who surrendered Thursday to authorities in West Los Angeles, are scheduled to be arraigned April 6 before Los Angeles Municipal Judge Craig E. Veals.

The Feb. 16 collision resulted in the death of Jaynna Banks, 15, of Culver City, who was a passenger in a car driven by Josh DeJean. No manslaughter charges were filed against Fistell, prosecutors say, because DeJean was speeding when the two cars collided after Fistell had begun a turn at Venice and Hauser boulevards.

DeJean, 19, who was driving down Venice from 55 to 75 m.p.h., according to police and private investigators, suffered a neck injury.

During his brief news conference, Fistell stressed the prosecutors’ conclusion that he was not criminally liable for the accident and emphasized his contention that he remained at the scene for “at least half an hour afterward” before leaving for work.

“I did not hit,” he said, “and I did not run.”

Fistell’s personal attorney, Marc R. Staenberg, said his client “regrets (the) bad judgment” of leaving the scene before police arrived.

“Believing he was not at fault, he made a determination, a panicked decision, to go to work after 30 or 40 minutes at the scene,” the lawyer said.


Neither Fistell nor Staenberg would comment on statements Staenberg made to The Times that Fistell and his wife discussed having her tell authorities she was the driver because his driver’s license had expired.

Police have said Tonda Fistell first told them that she was the driver but later changed her story and informed them that Fistell could be found at the nearby KABC radio studio.

The talk show host, arrested after he completed his broadcast that night, has since been on paid leave from work by mutual agreement with the station. At this point, Staenberg said, Fistell would like to return to the air and is awaiting word from KABC.

“I guess ABC is going to need to make a decision as to when he comes back,” the attorney said. “We’d like to come back on as soon as possible.”

On the night of the collision, Fistell left the scene in a cab and began his 11 p.m. broadcast on time, interviewing an actress who stars in the one-woman play “Family Secrets.” Later, he took open-line calls, mainly concerning the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which is being held in the same courthouse to which Fistell reported Friday morning. He did not mention the collision.

On Friday, Fistell said he had been able to perform his job after the accident because of a commitment to professionalism.


“When I went to the station, I did the show because it’s my job,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I didn’t feel anything. You have a lot of butterflies inside. But I’ve been in broadcasting since 1968.”

Fistell and his wife, who remain free on $20,000 bail each, face maximum prison terms of four years if convicted. The district attorney’s office has forwarded an accident report to the city attorney’s office for consideration of possible misdemeanor charges against DeJean for his role in the collision.