Father of teen accused of killing four in Isla Vista testifies

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 29, 2002

SANTA BARBARA — The father of a former college student on trial for running down four people with his car testified Tuesday that he couldn’t accept repeated diagnoses that his son was mentally ill. 

Daniel Attias, an Emmy-nominated television director, said he and his wife struggled with their son’s emotional and behavioral problems for years and did not want the youth saddled with the stigma of being mentally ill. 

David Attias, 20, is on trial for four counts each of murder and manslaughter, plus one count of driving under the influence of drugs for the Feb. 23, 2001, crash that killed four people and injured a fifth. 

Authorities say Attias raced his car down a crowded Isla Vista street near the University of California, Santa Barbara, and plowed into the five pedestrians. Attias allegedly got out of the vehicle after striking the pedestrians and shouted that he was the “angel of death.” 

Those killed were Nicholas Bourdakis, 20; Christopher Divis, 20; Ruth Levy, 20; and her friend Elie Israel, 27. Levy’s brother, Albert Levy, 27, survived. 

Attias’ father testified that he took measures to ensure that no “paper trail” would exist of diagnoses from doctors who said his son had attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and that he could be bipolar. 

“I’ve always been fearful of labels,” said Daniel Attias, 50, who has directed episodes of “Ally McBeal” and “The Sopranos.” “I didn’t want him to stop being seen as David.” 

Attias’ mother testified last week that her son was a “weirdo” and described how his behavior had changed once he enrolled at UCSB and stopped going to therapy and taking his medication. 

Attias’ father said his son’s condition also deteriorated as he experimented with illegal drugs. 

On winter break two months before the crash, David Attias verbally lashed out at his father for trying to set a 2:45 a.m. curfew on his son’s nightly attendance at Los Angeles raves. 

“His reaction was unlike anything I had ever seen,” his father testified. “It was full-blown megalomania . . . it was the first time I truly understood his diagnosis of bipolar disorder.” 

Attias’ defense attorneys, Jack Earley and Nancy Haydt, have entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which puts Attias’ mental status at the heart of the trial. The jury can only consider the mental illness to help determine his guilt. If convicted, the trial will move to a sanity phase and the panel will decide whether he was insane at the time of the crime.