An “obsessed” fan of “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker ignored pleas to slow down and punched the gas instead on a rain-slick road moments before she slammed a Mercedes-Benz into a tree, killing a 16-year- old passenger and seriously injuring two other teenage girls in Rancho Santa Margarita, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday, but the young woman’s attorney denied that she was speeding that night.
“The defendant chose to drive her vehicle too fast and because she did, she lost control of her vehicle,” Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky said of Sajid Shanzeh, who was 19 at the time of the Dec. 7, 2013, crash on Melinda Road near Santa Margarita Parkway.
Shanzeh, now 23, is charged with one count of gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of reckless driving with great bodily injury stemming from the 11 p.m. crash that killed Kiana Yazdihan and left one of the other two victims with paralysis on her left side, Bokosky said.
The prosecutor said a group of girls were hanging out that night, partying, and converged on a McDonald’s restaurant at 27700 Santa Margarita Parkway. Shanzeh, who had been at work, joined her friends at the fast-food restaurant and they all piled into her mom’s car, which had “bald” rear tires, to take them home, Bokosky said.
The speed limit on Melinda is 45 mph, but one of the teens in the car glanced at the speedometer and noticed the car was traveling 80 mph, Bokosky said. When one of the others admonished Shanzeh to slow down, the driver punched the gas again and it felt like the car was going about 100 mph, so the teen put on her seatbelt and ended up being fortunate enough to walk away from the crash, Bokosky said.
The fatally injured teen’s sister, Kimia, who was Shanzeh’s friend, said the defendant “loved the `Fast and Furious’ movies, and, as Kimia will tell you, she was obsessed with Paul Walker,” the prosecutor told the jury. “Kimia told her to `slow down, you’re going to miss my turn.”‘
The day before the accident, Shanzeh visited the site where the actor had died in a fiery Porsche crash in Santa Clarita the week before, Bokosky said.
Kimia broke her back in the crash and Klaudia Dziecielska sustained a spinal injury that has left her in frequent need of a wheelchair, according to the prosecutor.
“She can walk, but with a significant limp,” Bokosky said.
“It’s up to you to decide was this an accident, was it avoidable,” Bokosky told jurors. “I’m going to ask you to hold her accountable for her behavior and actions on that night.”
Defense attorney Rick Vallejo said the teens called his client to ask for a ride. They initially wanted to go to Venice to keep partying, but by the time the defendant got off work, it was late and the plan was for her to drive them home, Vallejo said.
“On December 7th, the only person trying to do a good deed and the right thing was that young woman right there,” he said, pointing to his client.
“That night was a tragedy, there’s no two ways about it,” Vallejo said. “But just because something tragic happened, it doesn’t give us the right to point fingers or cast blame where there’s no evidence to support it.”
The passengers in the car had been drinking and using drugs at a house party earlier that night, the attorney said. Some had taken the hallucinogenic drug, LSD, he said, and one drank alcohol to go along with “psychiatric medicine.”
Sajid was working that evening at a shoe store in a mall, one of two jobs she had at the time, Vallejo said.
“She’s sober that night,” he said, adding there’s no evidence that she was distracted by a cell phone or the car stereo.
“She’s got two hands on the wheel,” he said.
Vallejo said it had been raining and temperatures dipped to 29 that night. The car was headed downhill on a hilly road, he said.
Initially, none of the passengers told investigators the driver had been speeding, but over the years “the story has evolved,” Vallejo said.
“The only evidence you’re going to hear that she was speeding are going to come from the girls in that car, who were drinking, doing drugs, are angry and have a motive to lie,” Vallejo said.
–City News Service
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