LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aman Samsonian was speeding, passing cars and driving in a left-turn lane in a rush to get to the gym before he executed a turn and crashed into an electrical pole and fire hydrant, creating an electrified pool of water that fatally shocked two good Samaritans, according to witnesses.
A judge who heard testimony in a preliminary hearing Wednesday ruled the 20-year-old man should stand trial for vehicular manslaughter, despite the argument from Samsonian's lawyer that the legal foundation of the charges was unprecedented.
"The question becomes, did he kill these two ladies?" argued attorney Andrew Flier. He said that was not the case.
Flier told Superior Court Judge Karen Nudell that the deaths were not the driver's fault and said he could find no case in legal history to compare with the Southern California man's situation. He said the accident's outcome was not foreseeable and said "intervening acts," the women entering the hydrant water electrified by the fallen power lines, caused the deaths.
Deputy District Attorney Ron Carey disagreed, arguing Samsonian was guilty of gross negligence and wanton disregard for others.
"Speeding down a crowded road in a lane you're not supposed to be in is inherently dangerous," he said. "The defendant should have foreseen the harm that could happen."
Daniel Woloszyn, whose wife perished when she tried to help Samsonian, said they were in the line of cars behind him, saw him cross a double yellow line, jump the curb and crash. He said his wife called 911 on her cellphone and then raced over to help the driver. She died when she stepped into electrified water. Another woman who tried to help her also was killed. Her husband said he too got an electric shock when he tried to pull her out of the water.
"It was dark," he said. "When I turned the corner I saw water and my wife laying there."
Other neighborhood residents said they heard his screams, heard screeching brakes and a racing engine and rushed over. But they said they sensed danger and stayed back.
Samsonian's friend, Ashot Avanisian, said he was following behind in another car as they headed for the gym. He said traffic was unusually heavy that evening and he followed Samsonian as they "hopped out of lane to the middle lane and then back again." He said he wound up three cars behind his friend and didn't witness the accident. But he said when he tried to help in the aftermath he too was shocked.
Asked how fast his friend was driving, he said, "I just know he was going faster than me."
A police detective testified that Samsonian was taken to a hospital where he told her he had been driving 50 mph in a divider lane on the street that had a speed limit of 35. Some witnesses estimated his speed at 60 to 70 mph. He told the detective he had become impatient with the slow traffic.
"He was definitely driving negligently," the judge concluded at the hearing's end. "He had disregard for others. He made a terrible turn. That was a grossly negligent act."
She ordered him to stand trial and ordered his arraignment for Aug. 7.