Parents of Car Crash Suspect Express Sorrow
Speaking out shortly after his son’s first court appearance on murder charges, Hollywood TV and film director Daniel Attias expressed his family’s sorrow Tuesday for the carnage the troubled college freshman allegedly wrought Friday when his Saab careened into a crowd of strolling students, killing four people and critically injuring another.
“We’re both just shocked by how hopelessly inadequate any words can be,” said a tearful Attias, his arm around his wife, Diana, at a news conference in front of Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Their son, David, 18, is charged with four counts of murder, four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and five counts of driving while under the influence of drugs and causing great bodily harm.
At a defense attorney’s request during the brief court appearance Tuesday, Commissioner Deborah H. Talmage agreed to postpone arraignment until March 6. Attias will continue to be held at the county jail with no bail, accused of intentionally plowing his car into the victims on a crowded Isla Vista street known for weekend parties.
In court, Attias sat behind a glass window, wearing an orange jumpsuit and calmly talking to his attorney, Robert Sanger. At one point, the slightly built young man with spiky bleached-blond hair cocked his head to look for family members, seated in the front row, and then stared vacantly through the window, flinching slightly.
Prosecutors did not object to the postponement, nor did they outline details about the case against the UC Santa Barbara student.
A California Highway Patrol spokesman Tuesday said that there was no indication that Attias had been drinking Friday night but that officers concluded from their observations that he was under the influence of some type of drug.
After Attias refused a Breathalyzer test, blood samples were taken from him. Results from a lab analysis could take several more days.
Officer Mike Muell has said that Attias was initially arrested on suspicion of murder because of rumors that he yelled, “I am the angel of death!” after the crash. The officer said witnesses were being interviewed to confirm the comments.
In his statement outside the courthouse Tuesday morning, the elder Attias, a director of such TV series as “Ally McBeal,” spoke about the crash and its consequences. But he refused to discuss his son.
“On behalf of my wife I’d like to say how devastated and heartbroken we are for everyone affected by this horrible event,” he said, choking up. His wife clasped her mouth with a pained expression and cried.
“We know this has not affected just the loved ones and families of the victims who must be feeling unspeakable grief--and we extend whatever compassion we are capable of--but we know it has left a terrible, terrible gash in the whole community,” the director said.
His comments came less than 12 hours after 4,000 people gathered at the crash site near UC Santa Barbara to remember the victims in a solemn candlelight vigil.
Killed in the crash were: Nicholas Bourdakis, 20, a sophomore from the Bay Area; Christopher Divis, 20, a sophomore from San Diego County; Ruth Levy, a student at Santa Barbara City College from San Francisco; and Elie Israel, 27, of San Francisco. Israel was a friend of Levy’s brother, Albert, who was critically injured.
A sheriff’s spokesman said Tuesday that Attias, in addition to his court appearance next week, is also tentatively due in court March 14.
The spokesman said Attias and a fellow student, Octavio Enriquez, got into a brawl Feb. 1 in their off-campus dormitory. A resident advisor broke it up and told authorities that Enriquez started it. Neither student wanted to press charges, but the advisor asked to make a citizen’s arrest of both.
The two students received tickets to appear in court, said Lt. Mike Burridge, a sheriff’s spokesman. He added that no charges have been filed and the case is now unlikely to proceed. “I can tell you right now, they’re not going to bring Attias to court for this,” he said.
Friends said the fidgety film studies student was shunned by most peers because he came on too strong and bizarre, earning the nickname “Crazy Dave.” His isolation fed his aggression and he became increasingly hard to communicate with, said Richard Ramsey, a close friend from Compton, who met Attias at a Hollywood rave party.
Ramsey wasn’t shocked when he saw televised amateur video footage taken right after the traffic crash that showed his friend fighting with bystanders and screaming. “That belligerence I saw on TV is David,” he said. “Rather than talk things out or walk away, he would come out swinging.”
According to one dormmate, Attias had recently ranted about problems with his family. Michera Colella, 18, said he randomly stopped her in front of an elevator, cursed his father and then read her a letter warning that his car would be taken away unless he promised to see a psychiatrist instead of a counselor.
“I was thinking, ‘Why are you telling me this?’ ” she said.
A woman who said she often baby-sat for Attias in the early 1990s called the family warm and close, not “a typical Hollywood family.”
“I can’t say enough good things about his parents,” Gina Longo, 40, said Tuesday. “They were such a lovely family.”
Longo added that David Attias was always jittery and that she found him difficult to deal with.
“They tried hard, but I think they were scared of him too,” she said of the family. “They walked on eggshells. They had more than they could handle.”