Calif. driver hits group outside of church
Three dead, 13 injured in crash that happened as Christmas service ended; police suspect driver was under the influence
The Associated Press
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — Pedestrians were filing out of a church Christmas service when a car sped around other vehicles at a red light and plowed into the crowd before hitting another car head-on, police and witnesses said. Three people were killed, and several more were injured, California authorities said.
"Someone ran the red light, and bodies started flying. It was pretty horrible," witness Marco Zonno told KNBC-TV.
Within moments of the crash Wednesday night along California's famed Pacific Coast Highway, people were at the sides of victims lying in the street, said Mark Milutin, 26, who was in one of the cars stopped at the light.
"It was a very fast reaction," he said. "Two or three people were around each victim."
Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Redondo Beach police Lt. Shawn Freeman said.
Five children and eight adults, including the suspect and the other driver, suffered injuries including broken bones, abrasions and head trauma, Freeman said. Three people, Mary Anne Wilson, 81; Saeko Matsumura, 87; and Martha Gaza, 36, all of Torrance, later died, police said.
At least two people remained in critical condition Thursday morning, Freeman said.
Members of the crowd had just attended a Christmas program at St. James Catholic Church put on by students at the church's school.
Alan Wells, who lives in the apartment building at the corner, heard the crash and ran outside.
"I saw people lying all over the street, and people in the crosswalk were screaming and yelling," he told the Daily Breeze.
One boy who was struck was flung across the intersection, ending up beneath an SUV's tire, according to witnesses.
"The car is on the little boy. And we finally rolled it off the little boy. He had a little tie on. It was scary. It looked like he was in heaven at that point," Michael Tovar told KTTV.
The condition of the boy was unknown Thursday.
St. James Msgr. Michael Meyers said church officials led prayers at the scene.
"Nobody knew the condition of any of the victims so we simply went and prayed for each one and prayed over them and anointed them and just asked God's grace to be with them," Meyers said.
Bronstein was held on $300,000 bail and scheduled to appear in court on Friday. It wasn't immediately known if she has an attorney.
Officials said they do not have information linking her to any prior arrests or DUI-related incidents.
She had a perfect driving record but was restricted to driving a vehicle with hand-controlled brakes, an additional right-side mirror and adequate signaling device, according to Department of Motor Vehicle records.
The DMV had no record listing her as handicapped, however.
Milutin said the woman who hit the pedestrians, "just looked completely out of it."
"It was just a reaction I wouldn't have ever thought someone would have after a situation like that," he said.
A message seeking comment left at a phone number listed for Bronstein was not immediately returned Thursday.
The crash comes three days after another driver now charged with drunken driving injured 11 people who were parked and looking at a holiday light display in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra.