By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In July 2000, Red’s ex-wife Taia contacted Eric Baum and Brandon Baum, apparently distraught and offering to testify against her ex-husband. According to her deposition in the ensuing civil trial, the hospital had contacted her the day of the accident and told her Red had asked to see her. Although he was still in intensive care and on a ventilator, Taia recalls that Red specifically remembered hitting the first car, and told her she might need to testify he had a fainting condition, although this was the first she had ever heard of it.
She told police that Red said, “You won’t believe how easy it is to cut your throat. I would just like to get out and go finish the job.” To police — and later under oath — she reported multiple instances in their years together of Red holding a gun to his head, saying, “I can’t handle it anymore,” and threatening suicide over the phone. Her police statement read, “If you have ever seen his movies, you can realize what his mental well-being is.” Taia also claimed that the only time Red canceled scheduled visitations with his daughter was because of financial issues, or when he was depressed, or both. They had been divorced for six years, and May 31, the day of the accident, would have been their 13th wedding anniversary. Red countered that Taia only contacted the Baums as a legal ploy after he took her to court to enforce his court-ordered visitation rights, in which he ultimately prevailed. Taia Red refused to be interviewed for this story; in a prepared statement, she said she has moved on with her life and has no comment.
And then there was the physical evidence. Witnesses told police that they heard tires squealing and the engine revving as Red’s Jeep accelerated, 30 seconds after the initial impact with the Honda. Even more inexplicable were the skid marks inside the bar — thick black stripes from both front tires, one of the stripes a dozen feet long — which were mentioned in the police report, by witnesses, and by Q’s staff, who debated how to remove them afterward. Jack and Eleanor Caltabiano, whose son Jeffrey was drinking with Noah Baum at Q’s, and who was thrown 80 feet by the impact, breaking his leg, flew to Los Angeles to visit the accident scene the next morning. “That was the first thing we noticed when we walked in the bar, were these skid marks along the floor,” says Eleanor Caltabiano. “And all of us went over and looked at them and commented on them, that he must have put his brakes on when he figured out what was happening. Because there was no other way we could figure out they could have got there.”
“They were approximately 10 to 15 feet inside the bar,” adds her husband. “They started, if I recall, probably five feet inside, after he crashed through the two doors. In my opinion, I think that was the smoking gun.”
The Hills ?Have Eyes
In August 2001, a bombshell went off in the civil trial. After asserting his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid having to sit for a deposition, Red announced through his attorney, John Doherty of Doherty & Catlow (paid for by Mercury Insurance), that he had moved to Austin, Texas, to find employment. Then on October 23, 2001, for the second time in his life, he filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “Texas and Florida are known as debtors’ havens,” says UCLA Law School professor Lynn M. LoPucki. Red moved to Texas almost six years to the day after his previous bankruptcy filing, on August 18, 1995 — the statutory requirement. And the time he said he lived there — from the end of August to just before Christmas — was, coincidentally, the amount of time required to establish state residency (the better part of six months or, technically, 91 days).
According to the bankruptcy form, Mercury Insurance paid his filing fee, as they had paid all of his legal fees, since state law requires insurance companies to exercise a “duty to defend” and pay all legal bills even when they exceed a policy’s liability limits. The bankruptcy filing effectively stopped the civil suit in its tracks. In December 2001, Red received a round-trip plane ticket to L.A. to record the voice-over commentary, with director Robert Harmon, for the European special-edition DVD of The Hitcher, and to be interviewed for the accompanying documentary. He flew one-way to Los Angeles and never went back.
“That’s what you call forum shopping,” says Lloreda, Roos’ attorney, “shopping to find a venue not because of fact, but rather chessmanship — taking it far away, believing these people were not going to follow them to Texas. They figured we’d drop by the wayside.”
Yet according to attorney Lloreda, even this brief expatriation is in question. Red took with him only his clothes and a computer, leaving his possessions in storage in Van Nuys. While in Texas, he failed to secure what Lloreda has labeled “vestiges of residency” — a driver’s license, bank account, bus pass, Texas ID, or job, save for working for room and board at the hostel where he claims to have stayed part-time. The hostel refuses to confirm that claim for reasons of confidentiality. Members of Austin’s finite film community do not recall meeting Red there, including filmmakers Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge, the Austin Film Society, the South by Southwest Film Festival, the Texas Film Commission or Internet maven Harry Knowles, according to their representatives. Red did speak at the Austin Film Festival in October, and returned in 2002, and panel organizer Alan Odom clearly remembers him saying in 2001 “that he was probably going to move to Austin.” The moderator at the “Thrills and Chills” panel on October 13, 10 days before Red's bankruptcy filing, introduced him by announcing, “Eric is thinking of moving back to Austin. Let’s all try and convince him to do that.” Red claims that he was under consideration for a faculty job in the University of Texas film department, citing administrator Susan Dirks as his contact, but Dirks doesn’t remember speaking — or certainly negotiating — with him. “I don’t want to call the man a liar,” she says. “It’s possible he talked to me — but I probably get a call like that a month.”