Parents question screening of elderly drivers after accident
Parents at a South Los Angeles school across the street from where a 100-year-old man backed his car and struck nine children and two adults questioned whether enough is being done to screen elderly drivers.
“He shouldn’t be driving,” said Beatrice Vargas, 34, whose 6-year-old boy attends Main Street Elementary School, where some of the injured children attend classes.
Preston Carter struck the victims Wednesday afternoon shortly after classes had let out at the school at 53rd and Main streets. The victims ranged in age from 14 months to 48 years old, authorities said. Four of the children were injured seriously but were listed in stable condition Wednesday night.
Carter, who will turn 101 on Sept. 1, has a current driver's license and no history of traffic violations, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said.
Los Angeles Police Department traffic detectives were looking at whether Carter mistakenly hit his accelerator pedal instead of brake shortly before he rammed into the crowd about 2:30 p.m., a police official said.
Carter was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol as he reversed his car onto 53rd street from the eastern side of the Food 4 Less parking lot and struck the victims, LAPD Capt. Jorge Rodriguez said.
“It was a miscalculation on his part,” Rodriguez said. “He thought he was turning onto the street.”
The issue of older drivers was thrust into the national spotlight in July 2003 when an 86-year-old man plowed into pedestrians at a crowded Farmers' Market in downtown Santa Monica, killing 10 people and injuring 63 others.
In California, all drivers 70 years and older are required to pass a vision and written test every five years, DMV spokesman Mike Marando said. Motorists younger than 70 with clean driving records are eligible for two automatic license renewals every five years before having to appear at a DMV office for a vision test, thumb print and photo.
Carter told reporters at the scene that he “lost control of the car,” explaining that his brakes failed.
At his home Wednesday evening, Carter declined to comment further. His 78-year-old daughter, Ella Fleming, said the family was grateful that no one was killed. She said that her father would not be driving any more and that he was planning to give his car to the family.
“I’m so sorry that it happened,” she told a Times reporter, “and I’m thanking God none of them died.”
-- Ruben Vives in South Los Angeles and Robert J. Lopez
Photo: Preston Carter, 100, sits in a chair after an accident in which his car struck a group of pedestrians, injuring nine children and two adults, near Main Street Elementary School. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times