'I heard him punch the gas'

FOUR KILLED IN ISLA VISTA

2/25/01

By JOSHUA MOLINA and SCOTT HADLY, SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITERS

news@newspress.com

The 18-year-old UCSB student who allegedly slammed his 1991 Saab into five pedestrians, killing four, shouted "I am the Angel of Death" moments after the Isla Vista collision, according to several eyewitnesses.

Authorities arrested David Edward Attias Friday night after he allegedly sped through a stop sign, sideswiped nine parked vehicles on Sabado Tarde Road, and then hit the pedestrians.

Witnesses said he accelerated to speeds in excess of 60 mph as he raced down the street packed with weekend revelers.

"I heard him punch the gas right about mid-block there," Daniel Conway, a 20-year-old UCSB sophomore, said Saturday.

Conway and his girlfriend, Heather Vaniman, also 20, were going up the stairs of Vaniman's apartment when Attias allegedly sideswiped the first parked car.

"It happened really fast," he said. "At first we didn't know he had hit anyone."

But when Attias' badly damaged car came to rest, the injured and the dead were strewn in a line down the street, along with shoes, car parts and broken glass. Following the collision, a crowd of about 100 people rushed to the scene and some tried to subdue Attias.

The two UCSB students killed have been identified as Nicholas Shaw Bourdakis, 20, originally from Contra Costa County, and Christopher Edward Divis, also 20, from Vista in San Diego County. Both lived in Isla Vista. The remaining dead have not been identified, pending notification of next of kin.

One of the dead was a 27-year-old male from San Francisco. His roommate, Albert Arthur Levy, also 27, is in critical condition with major head and leg injuries. The fourth person killed is believed to be a Santa Barbara City College student and reportedly Levy's sister.

Attias, who previously lived in Santa Monica, was arrested on suspicion of four counts of vehicular homicide. He remains in custody at the County Jail. Investigators believe Attias was under the influence of drugs, but he refused to take a Breathalyzer test, said CHP officer Mike Muell. Authorities forced him to take a blood test, but the results won't be ready for several days. Based on Attias' rapid heart rate and the dilation of his pupils, a drug-recognition expert believes he was under the influence of controlled substances, Muell said.

Immediately after the accident, Vaniman, who recently completed a first aid and CPR course at school, grabbed a first aid kit and ran to Attias' car.

"It was my first instinct, you know, to help the driver," she said.

Wide-eyed and belligerent, he ripped off his seat belt and got out of the car.

"I don't know if he was on drugs or if it was just alcohol and adrenaline, but I left him and went to the first victim I saw," Vaniman said. That person had severe neck injuries and was bleeding profusely.

Vaniman was going to attempt CPR, but immediately saw that it was no use because of his wounds.

"Any air that you would blow in would immediately come out," she said.

Meanwhile Attias was jumping around his car, pulling at his clothes, yelling and taking swings at the crowd that was gathering around the accident scene, witnesses said.

"He was trying to punch everyone," said UCSB student Ryan Martin, who lives in an apartment in front of the accident scene. "He was yelling out satanic stuff. Fights were breaking out. The whole thing was bizarre."

Several witnesses heard him say, "I am the Angel of Death," while he flailed around. A few in the crowd tried to subdue him; others were hitting him back.

Much of the confusion was recorded by Sevan Matossian and Greg Shields, two filmmakers who have a cable access show on Isla Vista. They arrived within a few minutes of the accident. The footage was seized in the morning by Sheriff's deputies as evidence, but the filmmakers retained a copy.

"It was like nothing I've ever seen before," Shields said. "It just seemed like piles of bodies. And there were all these people surrounding the guy (Attias)."

Within minutes over 100 people were on the block, many attending to the victims, others surrounding Attias, who was yelling.

"All I heard was him screaming 'angel something,'" Vaniman said. "But he was wired."

Others were walking almost in a daze with the understanding that all the victims but one were dead and there was nothing to do to help them. In the footage shot by Matossian, Attias is seen jumping around, kicking at spectators and fighting with them before several young men grab him and began to hit him. At one point he falls on the ground and appears to kick at those surrounding him, who are alternatively yelling at him and telling him to calm down.

After snaking loose from the spectators, Attias jumps up and down as if he is getting ready to fight, when a Sheriff's deputy strikes him with a baton and knocks him to the ground. When the deputies handcuff him and put him in the patrol car, one person can be heard on the videotape saying, "Good thing they got him in the car or someone would have killed him."

The accident took place just after 11 p.m., during the typical party atmosphere associated with Isla Vista on the weekends. Students crowded the streets, walking to and from parties. Students often use Sabado Tarde to get to Del Playa Road, one of the most popular streets for revelry.

Authorities believe that the victims were walking back to their car when they were hit. The CHP found a car belonging to the deceased San Francisco man parked on Embarcadero del Mar, a nearby street, often referred to as "the loop."

Residents and eyewitnesses described the accident scene as grisly. Bodies and body parts were scattered in the middle of the street, in plain view. The impact of the crash knocked some of the victims out of their shoes and socks.

"It's something I'll never forget," said UCSB student Heather Hicks. "It was so surreal."

Hicks was about to walk her dog when she and her boyfriend, Steve Podosek, heard a loud boom in front of their apartment.

"We thought it was just some jerk hitting a Dumpster," she said.

The couple said they saw the bodies and were overwhelmed. They called their parents and wept.

"It hit us so hard," said Hicks, who also heard the driver shout, "I am the Angel of Death."

"No one could go to bed."

Immediately after the accident, a large crowd gathered around the police tape, trying to glimpse the scene.

Within a few minutes, UCSB chancellor Henry T. Yang was on the scene, hugging and comforting crying students.

"This is a terrible tragedy," he said, his voice cracking. "I have never seen anything this bad."

UCSB immediately set up a counseling center at the Isla Vista theater, a few blocks away. The university also arranged for counselors to meet with distraught students at the Student Health Center over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, counselors said about a handful of students had been to the health center seeking assistance. Later in the afternoon, at a UCSB basketball game, the fans were asked to devote a moment of silence to remember the victims.

The disaster is certain to raise concerns over celebrations that go on during the weekends in Isla Vista. In fact, county Supervisor Gail Marshall recently proposed having Isla Vista residents obtain permits if they want to have parties attended by more than 100 people, to help control the atmosphere.

Some UCSB officials believe that the proposal may help guard against these sort of situations.

"I think we knew, sensed and felt that there were safety issues in this community," said Dr. Yonie Harris, dean of students at UCSB. "No one ever wants this to happen."

Immediately after the accident, Yang said the tragedy has taught people a lesson.

"I think safety in Isla Vista is of the utmost importance," Yang said. "We will intensify our efforts to solve alcohol-related problems."

Some Isla Vista residents said that nothing could have prevented this disaster.

"You can't instigate programs to prevent this," Podosek said. "You can't protect yourself from something like this. It is so random."

But several students resented the connection between alcohol-fueled parties and a lone young man who appeared to be an intent on harming people.

"This was an act of one crazy person," said Brandon Brooks, a 19-year-old sophomore on the balcony in front of his apartment while looking down at the accident scene. "This wasn't a riot at an out-of-control party. It was some idiot going out of control down a street."


much thanks to the SB News-Press for use of this incredibly sad story

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