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Appeals Court Upholds Conviction in Fatal Pedestrian Crash

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By Jorge Casuso

February 10, 2021 -- A state appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a DUI driver who killed a pedestrian in the Civic Center parking lot during a string of fatal collisions in Santa Monica four years ago.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal panel rejected the defense's contention that there was insufficient evidence Absadi Tewelde Kidane was under the influence when he killed Donald Thomas Jr., 40, a married father of two from Hawthorne, on March 21, 2017.

The court noted that the prosecution’s expert toxicologist testified to the level of THC -- the psychoactive element in marijuana or cannabis -- in Kidane’s system nearly three hours after the crash, according to City News Service.

“Defendant drove his car in an erratic and reckless manner through the courthouse parking lot, during a busy time of day, breaking through a parking gate arm and careening into two concrete-filled steel bollards and then into the ticket machine where Mr. Thomas was standing,” said the 14-page ruling.

Thomas was paying for parking at the payment booth when he was struck at about 3:30 p.m., according to police.

Multiple witnesses testified that Kidane "got out of his crashed vehicle just a few car lanes away from where Mr. Thomas’s motionless body lay in the street and he took off running.”

A security guard chased Kidane, who was apprehended when several patrol cars arrived, according to the ruling.

Thomas was taken to a hospital and died of multiple traumatic injuries that day.

According to news reports, Kidane, who was 21 at the time, testified that "he had dropped out of school in the months preceding the crash, had trouble sleeping, began to feel paranoid and was using a lot of marijuana."

“On the day of the accident, he said he wanted to kill himself and did not intend to hurt anyone else,” the panel noted in its ruling.

Kidane was sentenced in November 2019 to 15 years in state prison.

Thomas was the fourth pedestrian struck by a vehicle in Santa Monica in 2017.

A record eight pedestrians were killed that year, prompting the City Council to order faster action on a sweeping re-design of city streets to enhance pedestrian safety and carve a post for a Safe Streets "Czar" ("Santa Monica City Council Calls for Safe Streets 'Czar,'" May 11, 2017).

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