“Why Didn’t You Get Out of My Way?”

Victims of the crash that took place at 1:47 pm, ten years ago today: Molok Ghoulian, 62 and Grandson Brendon Esfhani, 7 months, Leroy Lattier, 55, Gloria Gonzalez, 35, Lynne Anne Weaver, 47, Movsha Hoffman, 78, Kevin McCarthy, 50 and wife Diana, 41, Cindy Valladares, 3, and Theres Bragalia, 50.

I am going to have a hard time writing this.

Because I had really intended to take a break from what I was working on that day and head over to the Wednesday market to have lunch.  It was only a few blocks away from where I lived at the time.  And the variety of things you could find there were and still are, beyond what one finds in a typical farmer’s market on any continent.  But something, I can’t remember what, spurred me to postpone lunch and get some brilliant idea out of my head into my word processor.

It may have saved me.

I did finally take that break when I heard the helicopters. Helicopters are a common thing in Southern California. Geography and road congestion dictate it. But they are not usually a sign of good things having happened.  The police use them to patrol.  The fire departments use them to transport persons needing immediate care, usually for trauma.  The media use them to cover the story from above.  You will know which helicopter is which, because usually the media show up first and “park” high above the area in what can only be likened to a geo-syncronous satellite staying high above a fixed spot.

The man lived on 25th Street in Santa Monica. He was in his Eighty-Sixth year on this planet. The day was overcast and threatened rain, which it later did, when the 1992 Buick LeSabre was backed out of the driveway.  Just one-half mile (750 meters) away, across the boundary with the City of Los Angeles formed by 26th Street, was the Brentwood Country Mart with its long-extant contract post office.  Mail would have been dispatched from there at the close of the day, at 5pm or thereabouts.

But the man thought that if he took it to the main Santa Monica Post Office, the card he was mailing to his daughter would be sent on its way sooner.  This was further away and he, like many Americans, was of the firm belief, into which they have been conditioned and infra-structurally built, that the only way to make such a journey was via his private automobile. Which he probably would have also done even if he decided to go to Brentwood.  Which he did even though there was and still is a Santa Monica-operated bus that runs on Montana Street just ten or so houses away, every fifteen minutes at that time of the day, on which he could have ridden for just twenty-five cents, the “Senior Citizen” fare at the time.

The car is king in Los Angeles and there are large portions of the population who would not dream of traveling by any other means. This has changed somewhat as gasoline has increased sharply in price since and credit, with which cars are usually purchased, has been more restricted. But it was the Summer of 2003 and these new realities had not arrived. Organizations who lobby for causes important to the elderly in the USA were still Ignoring the Bull in Society’s China Shop.

I hope that today at 1:47pm (20:47 GMT) you will join me and take a moment to remember the lives of all ten people pictured on this page. Exactly ten years ago their lives ended just because they were at a Farmer’s Market on a closed street and a man, one whose family knew he was no longer fit to operate a motor vehicle, felt he still had the absolute right to travel via automobile.  Just like many still do today.

Should you not wish to read the details of the massacre, stop here.

Having posted the card at the main post office on Fifth Street north of Arizona Avenue, the man got back into his Buick and headed for his next destination, probably back home.  He would have been able to travel along Arizona Avenue to Fourth Street, where a small “Road Closed” sign would have prohibited travel further west.  At this point he man’s Buick hit a Mercedes Benz but failed to immediately halt. Instead the man used his Buick to push the Mercedes out of the way and then began to accelerate his car down Arizona Avenue into the Farmer’s Market.  He traveled 995 feet (303 m) at speeds of over 60 miles per hour (100 km/h).  It was over in seconds.  One witness said “People were being dragged under his car,”…“You could see the body parts dangling out. The whole thing was like a scene out of ‘Dante’s Inferno.’ I first heard an explosion and then I saw a body fly up in the air.”

The car finally stopped reportedly because a victims body-part  blocked the movement of a mechanical component of the Buick’s undercarriage.  Nine were dead on site, a tenth died in hospital, and dozens were injured.

And as he stepped out from behind the wheel on the last car he would ever drive, the man was heard to exclaim: “Why didn’t you get out of my way?”

  • Anonymous

    I lived on 14th and Wilshire, two blocks away from UCLA-SM hospital. All I heard that day was ambulance sirens.

  • Militant Angeleno

    ALWAYS bring up this tragedy whenever you hear old folks bitch about losing “their lanes” and “their rights” on the road. And with Baby Boomers getting older, we might see more of these happen unfortunately.

  • James Gross Jr

    I remember the day that occurred. The carnage was terrible. I can’t fathom driving in SM, especially west of Lincoln.

  • Anonymous

    MA, are you saying you always exploit this tragedy in rebuttal to older people daring to argue for keeping their driving privileges, or are you telling other people to do so.

    Either way, in regards to group marginalization it sounds distinctly familiar to what I often hear in regards to urban biking and the rights involved. Simply replace “old folks” with “bicyclists” and see how insensitively generalizing that can be interpreted.

    Just as so many motorists are quick to demonize and cast off cyclists as a whole, I’d encourage restraint when it comes doing the same to the senior segment of the driving population.

  • Charlie Red

    Fucking old people, I hate most of them, and will soon hate myself.

  • Brazen Bull

    I am unable to add any commentary to this tragic event. This unnamed man was ill-equipped to drive. These facts are indisputable.

    However, I was directed to this article by a post on social-media. The first thing that jumped out at me was the excessive use of hyper-links. It seemed almost every other sentence was trying to re-direct me to another article or website.

    I understand Erik Griswold wants to remain hip and contemporary, but why all the hyper-links in your article!? Give us the facts. These people died. I’d feel better served grieving them just reading your article, without your excessive promotion of other sites. (AKA ad revenue).

    If you feel we need additional facts about the case, direct us to other sites at the end of your article. It’s foolish to think we’d click on everything and still get your message.

  • calwatch

    Hyperlinks are used to provide reference – to how the killer could have done many things differently that day. It was not just a single bad decision, but many that led up to this tragedy,

  • Erik Griswold

    The hyperlinks were meant to provide background to the story. I have no interest in creating page views. I actually wrote this piece for another website with a broad audience in mind. See for example my translations of measurements into the metric system. My apologies if my formatting was improper.

  • yellowsnowstorm

    I mean, it’s not like the links take you to surveys to get mac & cheese coupons. the links were actually relevant to the article. Nobody is making you click links you don’t want to click.

  • Erik Griswold

    Rather than view it as “exploiting” the event, remind the participants that they too may come to the day that they are no longer comfortable behind the wheel of a car, or that others may determine them to be so. And then wouldn’t it be nice if there was an alternative for them to get about with?

  • Erik Griswold

    Allow me to correct myself: The one link that might make you purchase something is to the Santa Monica Daily Press Archive of the coverage from the day after the event. Their archive used to be free, but now they charge a modest fee for access. I have PDF copies of the July 17th and 18th, 2003 which I downloaded for free back then.

  • When I was reading this article, trying to decide if it would work for Streetsblog, I was actually impressed with the links. That’s a ton of documentation. A sign that Erik really did his homework.

  • Niall Huffman

    Huh? This is a normal amount of linking compared to most blogs I read. As others have noted, the links are there to provide documentation and handy references to additional background info. I highly doubt Streetsblog is getting any revenue from clicks onto those pages.

    Quit being such a Luddite; if you don’t want to read the linked pages, don’t click on the links. That’s the beauty of hyperlinking: it makes it easier to choose which information you want to consume and which you want to ignore. Different individuals will have different interests and preferences; hence the many links.

  • Anonymous

    Erik, I completely agree that it would be nice if there are more complete transportation options for ALL of us to utilize — regardless of age. It’s interesting though, that to make that point you felt compelled to take me to task for the use of “exploit” in interpreting MA’s comment, but apparently find his rather demeaning characterization of seniors acceptable.

  • overly squeamish

    Luddite reporting in, I resent that remark. Have a nice day.

  • Elizabeth

    My first thought was oh my god, not again. You should have mentioned up front that this was 10 years ago to avoid needlessly upsetting people.

  • marty

    Only in the U.S. can you kill 10 people any get away with it. He was allowed to go home a free man despite conviction because of his age. This ruling makes older people entitled to take others out when they are having a bad day knowing they don’t have many yrs left. He was obviously angry about his wait at the post office. He premeditated this crime so it was no accident. Our court system is a joke. I would have sentenced him to death penalty.

  • meka

    I knew Gloria she worked at a motel I was in she was very nice and kind RIP to all who lost there lives. Prayers for the families

  • Melissa Cronin

    Erik, I just found this posting in my search for recent articles referencing the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Crash. I sustained life-threatenening injuries in that accident: ruptured spleen, multiple fractures, head injury. Thirteen years later, I still think of the ten people who died (I’ve memorized all of their names), and have glimpsed a few photos of some of them in various news articles. But, after reading your post, I now ask myself, Why haven’t I made it a priority to find photos of all ten victims to take a close look at them? Because seeing their faces breaks my heart, again and again. But that’s part of healing, I suppose. I thank you for sharing the photos, because I need to put names to faces, to see the smiles, the lives that mattered, the human beings that deserved many, many more years on this earth. I need to witness the loss, not forget it, even if it hurts. Molok, Cindy, Brendon, Theresa, Leroy, Lynne, Kevin, Diane, Movsha, Gloria – speaking their names out loud brings back texture to their randomly lost lives. Again, thank you, Erik, for sharing.


To Be or Not To Be a Gang-Banger: Is that Really the Question?

*This story features interviews with a number of youth. Some are named. Others requested they remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the information divulged. This story is the second in a series on the impact of generational disenfranchisement and trauma and repressive policing. The first, “Death and All His Friends,” can be found here. […]