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Crime

'Girls Gone Wild' Distributor Ryan Bowman Gets Off With 'Hit and Run' After Killing 21-Year-Old Lauren Freeman on Sunset Strip

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Sat, Mar 12, 2011 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Bowman's victim, 21-year-old Lauren Freeman
  • Bowman's victim, 21-year-old Lauren Freeman
Updated after the jump: At an emotional day in Beverly Hills court, Freeman's father tears into Bowman for treating his daughter "like a piece of trash on the road."

Update: Bowman is sentenced to a year in Seal Beach prison, with one day off for work per week.

By all accounts, Lauren Ann Freeman was being a responsible 21-year-old on the night of November 10: After attending a concert at the Roxy Theatre, she was hailing a cab for herself and friends, so as not to drive tipsy.

That's when a dark, unidentified vehicle barreled out of the darkness, through the Sunset Boulevard and Hammond Street intersection -- throwing Freeman 50 feet to her early grave.

And still, the man who killed her that night -- 42-year-old Ryan Bowman, an Australian businessman whose company has distributed the "Girls Gone Wild" series -- is being sentenced this morning in Beverly Hills for a mere felony count of leaving the scene of the crash.

For his own selfish reasons, after murdering slaughtering Freeman with his Bentley in the Sunset Boulevard crosswalk (where she had the right of way), Bowman took off into the night, leaving only the front end of his gray-and-black vehicle behind as evidence.

click to enlarge Australian businessman Ryan Bowman - L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
  • L.A. County Sheriff's Department
  • Australian businessman Ryan Bowman
The next afternoon, a Bentley missing the same piece of metal and suspiciously stripped of its license plates was discovered, abandoned, near La Cienega and Melrose. At that point, the founder and CEO of Zeal Entertainment had no choice but to surrender at the West Hollywood sheriff's station -- but not before arming himself with a killer attorney.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

In a plea deal reached March 2, Bowman admitted to being behind the wheel of the Bentley that struck Freeman, according to a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. His charges were reduced to leaving the scene of a collision.

Bowman is scheduled to be sentenced Friday morning by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elden Fox. He will spend an unspecified amount of time in a "pay-to-stay" city jail.

We'll update with Judge Fox's final sentence for Bowman. But tell us: Is this justice? Might Bowman have received a harsher charge had he done the right thing and stayed to deal with the mess he created? And what kind of message does that send to L.A.'s already rampant population of hit-and-runners?

Update, March 11, 3:50 p.m.: A clerk at the Beverly Hills courthouse tells the Weekly that Bowman "pled out" today, and was sentenced to four years probation, as well as 364 days in city jail (though he's already served seven of those).

As expected, according to the clerk, his only charges were "leaving the scene of an accident," but -- thanks to "two hours of victim impact statements" -- Bowman did receive a stricter punishment than normal for a felony crime.

"You want to give closure to the family," says the clerk.

Update, March 12, 1:15 p.m.: The Associated Press just released a heart-wrenching account of Bowman's sentencing yesterday, a tense back-and-forth between the family's outrage and the high-class criminal's shame.

From the night of Freeman's death:

Bowman's Bentley struck the 21-year-old, catapulting her 15 metres in the air. Freeman's promising young life ended in a bloody, crumpled mess on the road.

But instead of stopping to help, Bowman kept going, driving his luxury vehicle to a residential area of West Hollywood. He then left the key in the ignition, the doors unlocked and fled.

Authorities suspect he hoped someone would steal the Bentley.

And yesterday, the courtroom confrontation:

A few moments later, Mr Freeman stopped talking, looked across at Bowman, and for five chilling seconds locked eyes with him.

When Mr Freeman opened his mouth again, he erupted, maintaining his glare at Bowman and releasing some of the pain his wife, Donna, 24-year-old son Andrew and friends and family had endured since losing Lauren in such a violent way.

"Like a piece of trash on the road," Mr Freeman yelled. "My little girl." ...

Bowman, breathing heavily and his voice shaking, stood and told the Freemans he was "ashamed" and "will be forever haunted" by Lauren's death.

"I didn't stop my car and I wasn't there as I should have been to see if I could help Lauren," Bowman, a co-founder of mobile phone marketing business mConnect that he sold for $A8 million last year, told them.

In all, there were nine victim statements, giving Bowman a glimpse into the life of the young aspiring fashion designer whose life he ended. (Freeman had recently graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.)

According to the AP report, the Seal Beach Police Detention Center -- at which Bowman will be serving his time, likely reduced to six months on good behavior -- is as luxurious as a prison can be, with "a newly renovated kitchen, library, commissary, inmate programs and in-room cable television with a movie library."

The Beverly Hills court clerk told the Weekly yesterday that she didn't know of any particular connection between Bowman and Seal Beach. Guess that's just where a million-dollar stint with "Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break, Anything Goes!" will get a man.

Update: According to the same Associated Press piece, "if Bowman does not contravene his probation, the conviction will be reduced to a misdemeanour and expunged from his criminal record."

His personal wealth is likewise coming in handy as far as making nice with the Freemans:

Bowman has also agreed to pay the Freemans an undisclosed amount of restitution. However, it may not be the only payment the grieving family receives.

The Freemans have launched a civil lawsuit against Bowman, with the family's private investigator, John Nazarian, serving Bowman as he left court.

Originally posted March 11 at 9:10 a.m.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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