Oscar winner charged in crash

Saillant is a Times staff writer.

Prosecutors charged Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary with gross vehicular manslaughter on Friday, alleging that the author of such hits as “Pulp Fiction” and last year’s “Beowulf” was driving drunk when he killed a passenger and injured his wife in a rural Ojai car crash.

Avary, 43, pleaded not guilty in a Ventura courthouse to manslaughter and other charges connected to the Jan. 13 single-car collision. Investigators said Avary was at the wheel of a Mercedes sedan late that night when he failed to make a curve and crashed into a telephone pole. Prosecutors said his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.

Passenger Andreas Zini, 34, was killed in the collision. Avary’s wife, Gretchen, was ejected from the vehicle. She suffered serious injuries but recovered.

Zini and his wife, Maria, 33, both of Italy, were visiting the Avarys on their honeymoon, said Mike Lief, the prosecutor on the case. Maria Zini was in a separate car when the crash occurred, he said.

Avary’s attorney, Mark Werksman, said that his client is distraught. Avary, in a dark suit, attended Friday’s hearing but did not speak.


“It’s a horrible tragedy, and Mr. Avary is devastated by it,” Werksman said.

Now that charges have been filed, Avary hopes to quickly resolve the case, his attorney said. Besides felony manslaughter, Avary faces two felony counts of causing bodily injury while intoxicated, charges that could bring 11 years behind bars. A pretrial conference is set for Feb. 20 in Ventura.

In a separate hearing Friday, Lief sought to raise Avary’s bail to $80,000 from $50,000. But Judge Kevin McGee, noting that Avary has attended all court proceedings, turned down the prosecutor’s request. The judge also gave Avary, who is out on bail, permission to travel outside the country.

Avary and co-writer Quentin Tarantino won an Academy Award in 1994 for “Pulp Fiction,” their cheeky exploration of mob violence. Avary also co-wrote the screenplay for 2007’s fantasy hit “Beowulf.”