World & Nation

Family saved by Zimmerman calls off news conference

Mark O’Mara
George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara answers questions from reporters outside his offices in Orlando, Fla. The occupants of an overturned vehicle whom Zimmerman aided backed out of a planned news conference Wednesday to answer questions concerning Zimmerman’s involvement.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Yes, that really was George Zimmerman. Yes, helping that family from a car crash a few days after the verdict really does seem coincidental. But no, the wreck really wasn’t a PR setup.

Or so said Zimmerman’s trial attorney, Mark O’Mara, to the cameras perched outside his Orlando law offices Wednesday, which were there to record the latest minor episode in the closely watched saga.

Because it wasn’t just O’Mara who was supposed to be standing in front of TV reporters Wednesday.

The members of the family Zimmerman helped from an SUV were supposed to be there too but backed out not long after it was announced that they would talk about what happened.

On July 17, with his wife and two children inside the vehicle, Mark Gerstle lost control of the family’s 2004 Ford Explorer on an off-ramp in Seminole County, causing the SUV to leave the road and roll over, officials said.

Zimmerman, fresh off his acquittal for murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, didn’t witness the accident, officials said.

But he and an unidentified acquaintance spotted the overturned vehicle and went to check on the family, O’Mara told reporters Wednesday. None of the family members were seriously injured, and Zimmerman was about to leave the scene when deputies brought him back to the site of the accident to ask what happened, O’Mara said.

The details of that evening have become a minor curiosity for some observers of the Zimmerman-Martin case. Car accidents happen all the time, and passersby often stop to help -- but those passersby are rarely famous criminal defendants, and Zimmerman’s involvement led to murmurings of a conspiracy to rehabilitate his image.

A conspiracy that O’Mara took care to deny Wednesday.

“I will acknowledge it’s coincidental -- four, five days after the verdict,” O’Mara said.

But, O’Mara asked rhetorically, “do you think we would have set up a family of four in a destroyed SUV? ... People are going to believe what they’re going to believe.”

And the thing is -- in a public sentiment that is backed up by at least one poll -- more than a few people have said they believe Zimmerman should have been found guilty of murdering Martin.

Some of the discontent over the case led to widespread street demonstrations; a smaller amount of that dissatisfaction has resulted in death threats targeted at Zimmerman and at least one pro-Zimmerman rally.

It’s bad enough, O’Mara said, that the family helped from the SUV decided, after speaking with friends, “that their involvement in anything having to do with George Zimmerman would cause problems.”

“George did what I think what most people would do ... and I think what happened with them today, they were worried, and were advised by family friends not to have something to do with George Zimmerman, and I think that’s sad.... It’s quite frustrating,” O’Mara said.

After the verdict, Zimmerman has stayed in Seminole County, Fla., to spend time with his family, but he is also “staying in one place or another,” O’Mara said.

Those locations -- in the Casey Anthony tradition -- are undisclosed, of course, and O’Mara said the Gerstle family has now chosen to go the same route.

“Those people want their privacy and they deserve it,” O’Mara said, adding, “they want to be left alone.”


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