David Attias, driver who plowed into crowd, to leave mental hospital

Former UC Santa Barbara student David Attias is shown during his trial in 2002. He was charged with four counts of murder in the running down of pedestrians in nearby Isla Vista. A jury found him legally insane.
(Mike Eliason / Associated Press)

A Santa Barbara judge has ruled that David Attias, who in 2001 declared he was the “angel of death” after killing four pedestrians and severely injuring a fifth, should be transferred from Patton State Hospital to a less restrictive outpatient program.

Attias, then a student at UC Santa Barbara, was charged with murder after deliberately plowing his car into a crowd on an Isla Vista street. A jury in 2002 found him legally insane.

In a ruling released Tuesday, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Adams said the now-30-year-old man was “clearly not the same vacant, troubled and confused David Attias” he observed while presiding over his trial. Petitioning for his release from Patton, Attias testified at a hearing last spring, as did four of the hospital’s mental health professionals.

Attias’ therapists said treatment and medication had helped him quell his delusions and dangerous impulses, the judge noted. The only mental health expert who testified otherwise was a specialist from Boston who had never met him.

Prosecutor Paula Waldman, who presented the case against Attias’ release, said in an interview Tuesday that she disagreed with the judge because Attias “presents a danger on so many levels.”


She said Patton therapists several years ago backpedaled on Attias’ release after learning he had made calls and written suggestive letters to a woman who visited a fellow patient.

Deedrea Edgar, an attorney with the Santa Barbara County public defender’s office, said Attias would be intensively monitored. She said his new facility had not yet been chosen but would be supervised by the state Department of Mental Health’s conditional release program.

After one year, Attias can ask for a full release.

Abby Pollak, the mother of 27-year-old Elie Israel, one of the four pedestrians who died, said she was “profoundly disappointed” by the judge’s decision.