Friday, February 23 , 2018, 11:11 am | Fair 53º


Local News

Hearings Continue on Possible Release of David Attias, Driver Who Killed 4 in Isla Vista

Former UCSB student was convicted of murder but found legally insane; he has been in a mental institution since 2002

Testimony continued Friday in the case of David Attias, a former UCSB student who struck and killed four people and seriously injured another while speeding in his car down a crowded Isla Vista street in 2001.

David Attias, who ran down and killed four people with his car on an Isla Vista street in 2001, was in court this week seeking to be released from a mental hospital. The hearings continue next week.
David Attias, who ran down and killed four people with his car on an Isla Vista street in 2001, was in court this week seeking to be released from a mental hospital. The hearings continue next week. ( photo)

Attias was found guilty of four counts of second-degree murder, but jurors in 2002 also concluded he was legally insane. He’s been living at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino for a decade, but has been recommended for release to outpatient treatment for his mental illness.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Adams will ultimately make that decision, and experts have been taking the stand all week about why Attias should or shouldn’t be released.

Attias drove his car down a crowded Sabado Tarde Road in Isla Vista late in the evening on Feb. 23, 2001. For people were struck and killed — Elie Israel, 27; and Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis and Ruth Levy, all 20. Albert Levy was seriously injured but recovered.

According to news reports at the time, Attias behaved erratically immediately after the crash, and yelled, “I am the angel of death.”

Friday’s session, part of several days of hearings expected to stretch into next week, revolved around two witnesses who have both worked with Attias during his time at Patton. The first to take the stand was Troy Freimuth, a psychologist at the hospital, who spoke about the difficult task of risk assessment with mentally ill patients.

Attias was recommended for a conditional-release program, also known as CONREP, in 2008 and 2010, but staff decided to keep him longer. Several incidents gave staff pause, he said.

One occurred when Attias began sending letters to Ashley Brown, a fellow patient’s sister, which prompted her to file a police report, and a second incident occurred when he yelled at a staff member, Freimuth said.

Because Attias has spent much of his life in an institution — he was placed at Patton when he was 19 and is now 30 — prosecutor Paula Waldman asked Freimuth whether Attias will be able to make the transition.

“People need to time to adjust, to suddenly make more and more decisions,” said Freimuth, adding that was part of why CONREP was initially established.

Attias, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has been treated as such since his admittance to Patton, recently had another diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder added. Attias also has been treated for substance abuse while at the hospital.

According to psychologists, three types of violence exist: impulsive, planned and psychotic.

Attias had a history with impulsive violence as a child and a teenager, as well as psychotic aggression, Freimuth said. But he said he didn’t think the letters to Brown constituted planned aggression.

Freimuth said he feels “reasonably sure” that Attias would not present an undue risk in an outpatient setting.

After questioning from Attias’ public defender, Deedrea Edgar, Freimuth said that reasonable certainty is the highest degree he could issue as a clinician.

Dr. Robert Davis, who works at Patton as a staff psychiatrist, also took the stand.

Davis works with Attias and 24 other patients at the hospital, and was part of the team that recommended he be included in CONREP.

“We made that recommendation based on conviction that he would benefit more from outpatient treatment than continued inpatient treatment,” he said.

While Attias has been at the hospital, he’s been on the same medications, and had an array of “minor difficulties” but no episodes of major violence, Davis said.

Attias was showing episodes of irritability, he said, so was put on a medication used for impluse control called Depakote.

Before it was not uncommon for him to get into “petty” arguments with staff, and “we stopped hearing complaints about his behavior,” Davis said.

Davis detailed the three medications — Geodon, Welbutrin and Depakote — that Attias takes, totaling up to five pills a day. Davis said it was a reasonable regimen, and would be manageable while a part of CONREP.

“It’s a lifelong disorder,” said Davis, adding that Attias will have an ongoing need for therapy.

Because of that disability, it will take a slow transition, he said. Substance abuse is the greatest risk factor, he said, so a mandatory 12-step program would be in order after he is released.

Davis said he had no hesitation in recommending Attias for CONREP.

“I don’t think he’s at risk of engaging in the type of incident that got him to Patton,” he said.

He further outlined the letters that proved the biggest obstacle to Attias’ release previously.

Davis said Attias had seen Brown during a visitation with her sister, also a patient at Patton. That patient had encouraged Attias to contact Brown, giving her the sister’s address.

Brown filed a police report indicating that the letters and phone calls were unwelcome, and that she had not responded to any of them, Davis said.

“Do you believe that David Attias created a dangerous situation?” she asked.

“It certainly was an uncomfortable one,” said Davis, who added that he didn’t think Attias had put the woman in any danger.

Attias would be at risk of having a manic episode if he went off of his medications, but would also be at risk if he stayed on them and began abusing drugs again, Davis said.

Waldman asked Davis specifically about ketamine, cocaine and ecstasy, and if Attias would be at risk if he began taking those drugs.

“Yes,” Davis responded.

At least one member of the treatment team had reservations about releasing Attias, Davis said, but has not taken the stand yet.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.UCSB

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