It's been ten years since David Attias was committed to a high security mental institution following his arrest for killing four pedestrians and severely injuring a fifth, but a Santa Barbara, Calif. judge has ruled that Attias is now eligible for release.
In Feb. 2001, Attias, the then 18-year-old son of Hollywood film director Daniel Attias, sped down a busy residential street in his 1991 Saab, plowing into parked cars and killing Christopher Divis, 20, Nicholas Bourdakis, 20, Ruth Levy, 20 and 27-year-old Elie Israel. Albert Levy, 27, ended up in the intensive care unit.
After he'd run them down, numerous witnesses saw Attias get out of his car, screaming that he was "the angel of death." He was convicted of murder, but then acquitted because the court ruled that he was insane.
The I.V. Massacre, as it came to be known, all went down a block from the Pacific Ocean in Isla Vista, a teeming student ghetto nestled next to the University of California, Santa Barbara. Attias drove 50 to 60 mph down Sabado Tarde, a narrow, apartment-lined road that's always packed with ambling young people. I used to live a block away from where it happened, and whenever I looked down the street at that tranquil scene, I could hardly believe something like that could have happened there. But it did.
While a team of state mental health professionals have been working to rehabilitate Attias over the past ten years, there's always doubt weather someone who was able to do something so cold blooded could ever be trusted again. Prosecutor Paula Waldman isn't convinced that releasing him is a safe thing to do, and the Santa Barbara Independent reported that "for the past 18 months, staff testified, his behavior, his attitude - once provocative, entitled, and contemptuous - and insight into his violence have improved markedly."
That's 18 months out of ten years — not really all that long. He has also gotten into trouble at the Patton state mental hospital in years past for flirting with another patient's girlfriend and sending raunchy letters to a different patient's sister, who he didn't even know.
Short of the mental health professionals who have been working with Attias over the past decade, all anyone else can do is speculate. One thing is certain, letting someone who indiscriminately killed four people go so soon is bound to make anyone a little uneasy. The Santa Barbara Facebook-o-sphere is, not surprisingly, abuzz with dismay that Attias will be more or less free after only 10 years under lock and key.
Photo credit: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office; KEYT