UPDATE at 2:20 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, 2014: A 6-year-old boy died overnight. He's the fourth fatality in the case. A suspect was formally charged today with gross vehicular manslaughter. See more below.
The driver whom police say killed three people and injured nine others after a Christmas performance at a Redondo Beach Catholic church this week is disabled and has special hand-operated controls for her car, friends told reporters.
Police arrested 56-year-old local resident Margo Bronstein on suspicion of “felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” following the tragic collision on Pacific Coast Highway, the Redondo Beach Police Department said in a statement.
Investigators reportedly believe the woman was under the influence of prescription medication.
But one friend told TV reporters he believes that Bronstein's vehicle, equipped to be driven by hand, might have malfunctioned when it initially struck a group of 11 pedestrians who were leaving the church.
A shaken witness to the horror told news crews that he went up to Bronstein's car and screamed at her but that she sat in silence.
The collision at PCH and Vincent Street was reported at 8 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said. A Redondo Beach police statement describes what investigators believe happened:
… A motor vehicle driven by a female adult drove north bound on Pacific Coast Highway through the intersection of Vincent Street, striking several pedestrians. The pedestrians were leaving a church service at St. James Catholic Church, and were crossing in the crosswalk, going east bound on Vincent Street. After striking the pedestrians, the vehicle continued driving, into the south bound lanes of Pacific Coast Highway and collided head on into another vehicle.
Thirteen people, including five children, the driver of the other vehicle, and Bronstein herself, were involved. The deceased were identified as 81-year-old Mary Anne Wilson, 87-year-old Saeko Matsumura, and 36-year-old Martha Gaza, all from nearby Torrance.
Two people drove themselves to hospitals while others were transported by paramedics, police said. The department described some of the victims:
-Injured adult with a leg fracture, stable condition
-Injured adult with a head injury and leg fracture, critical condition
-Injured child with head trauma and bruised lung, critical condition
-Injured child with broken collar bone, stable condition
-Six injured persons with minor abrasions and complaint of pains, in stable
Bronstein was treated at a hospital and then jailed in lieu of $300,000, police said. She was scheduled to appear in court today.
UPDATE at 2:20 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, 2014: Authorities say a 6-year-old boy struck by the suspect died at a hospital overnight.
The L.A. County District Attorney's Office today charged Bronstein with four felony counts of suspicion of “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one felony count of driving under the influence of a drug causing injury,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The D.A.'s office described what it believes happened:
… Bronstein allegedly swerved around vehicles stopped at a red light near Pacific Coast Highway and Vincent Street in Redondo Beach and then crossed the red light, the prosecutor said. The car then ran into a group crossing the street as they left St. James Catholic Church killing Martha Gaza, 36, and her son Samuel Gaza, 6, Mary Anne Wilson, 81, and Saeko Matsumura, 87, the prosecutor added.
D.A.'s officials were recommending $500,000 bail. Bronstein could face 40 years behind bars if successfully prosecuted.