Witnesses Recount Couple's Beating


Witnesses said Wednesday they saw a Santa Barbara man drive into an Oak View couple's yard, get out of his truck and punch the 77-year-old woman in the head before knocking down her 83-year-old husband when he tried to intervene.

The neighbors testified in a preliminary hearing for David Taggart, 35, who is charged with attempted murder, two counts of elder abuse and two counts of vandalism.

If convicted of all charges, the Santa Barbara resident, who is in jail on $500,000 bail, faces up to 25 years to life in prison.

"He would raise his fist and bring it down and then kick" Mary and Ben Thompson, said Veronica Susanka, 14, who witnessed the Feb. 2 attack in the gated community.

The attack left Mary Thompson with a fractured cheekbone, a fracture near her eye and severe trauma to the head, said prosecutor Bruce Young.

Ben Thompson also suffered head and eye injuries, and both were hospitalized after the beating.

Veronica said she had to jump out of the way as a blue truck sped through Serenidad Place, where she was playing on her scooter.

After the truck crashed into a brick pillar outside the Thompsons' house, a barefoot, bare-chested man in jean shorts got out and ran into the bushes, Veronica said. Ben Thompson came out of the house, and Mary Thompson followed, saying she had called police.

Taggart approached Mary Thompson and, without saying a word, punched her in the head, Veronica testified. The woman fell to the ground screaming, and Taggart punched and kicked her while yelling obscenities, she testified.

Another neighbor, 17-year-old Jonathan Teichert, testified that Taggart shouted that he was "going to kill" Mary Thompson.

Ben Thompson ran up the driveway to stand between his wife and Taggart, Veronica testified. But a punch from Taggart felled him, too, she said.

When authorities arrived, Taggart rammed into a fence, Jonathan said.

The incident ended, when officers wrestled Taggart to the ground, Deputy Alfredo Calderon said.

Calderon testified that Taggart's ex-wife, Colleen Hugo, told him that Taggart had admitted bingeing overnight on cocaine before visiting her and their 8-year-old daughter. Hugo lives near the Thompsons on Serenidad Place.

Hugo allowed him to rest in a guest room, Calderon testified, and went out about noon, leaving Taggart sleeping and her year-old twins in nanny Marta Mendiola's care.

Mendiola was in the family room when she heard crashing and yelling, Calderon testified, and she saw Taggart dragging a 20-foot plastic pool hose into the family room. As she stood watching, Taggart smashed a mirror, the officer testified.

Mendiola said she grabbed the twins and ran, Calderon said.

Taggart cried silently through much of the courtroom testimony.

"He feels terrible. It was drug-induced psychosis," Taggart's lawyer, Nancy Haydt, said during a recess.

Ben Thompson is expected to testify when court resumes today before retired Judge Burt Henson.

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