The driver accused of killing four Pepperdine students in a Malibu crash last week was charged with murder, with prosecutors saying he was speeding at 104 mph before the fatal collision.
Fraser Michael Bohm, 22, faces four counts of malice murder and four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter, Dist. Atty. George Gascón said during a Wednesday news conference, adding that the charges stem from Bohm's "complete disregard for the life of others."
"When you are driving at 104 mph in [a] 45-mph [zone], the only conclusion is you have a complete disregard for life," Gascón said.
Bohm pleaded not guilty to the eight felony charges Wednesday in a Van Nuys courtroom. He remains in jail on $4-million bail, with a bail review hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The four people killed — Niamh Rolston, Peyton Stewart, Asha Weir and Deslyn Williams — were sisters in the Alpha Phi sorority and seniors at Pepperdine University. Authorities believe they were standing near several parked vehicles in the 21600 block of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when Bohm's speeding BMW barreled into the cars and then struck the women shortly before 9 p.m. Oct. 17.
Bohm was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence following the crash, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Maria Navarro said. But he was released hours later. In a news release at the time, the Sheriff’s Department said he was “released to allow detectives time to gather the evidence needed to secure the strongest criminal filing and conviction.”
Bohm was re-arrested Tuesday night and booked on suspicion of four counts of murder. In the intervening days between arrests, investigators collected additional evidence — including toxicology results, search warrants and speed analyses — before submitting the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office on Monday.
A student-athlete during high school, Bohm played baseball at Chaminade Prep before transferring to Oaks Christian. A spokesperson for Oaks Christian, a private high school in the Conejo Valley, told the Acorn that Bohm had attended the school for one year but did not graduate. An online MaxPreps profile showed he played on the school’s varsity baseball team. A 2017 Times story said the infielder-pitcher at Chaminade Prep was “highly regarded.”
Investigators have determined that Bohm was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, but the onboard computer of his car shows he was traveling at 104 mph before he lost control in the deadly collision, according to law enforcement sources not authorized to discuss the case publicly. It was that data, along with statements by Bohm that he was familiar with the stretch of PCH and that he was aware of the posted 45-mph speed limit, that led to the charges against him, sources say.
But Bohm's attorney, Michael Kraut, says his client was not traveling that fast. He also has forwarded a claim to prosecutors alleging that another vehicle was involved in the crash. He said Wednesday that his client is the victim of a road-rage incident that night.
"They ignored evidence of a second car," Kraut told The Times. "My client was getting away from the guy chasing him."
Kraut said another driver "came into the lane and clipped him" and Bohm "hit the brakes."
"The evidence turned over showed at max [he was going] 70 mph," Kraut said of the information he has received in the case, adding that his client has "totally cooperated" with the investigation and passed a field sobriety test.
Kraut, who is a former prosecutor, said he has "never seen the filing of a vehicular homicide in four or five days without getting all the details." He said the district attorney was under political pressure to file charges in the case and had not ensured that all the information was gathered ahead of time.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Arens told reporters Wednesday at the news conference that he had "no evidence" that the crash stemmed from an alleged road rage incident.
The collision has renewed calls for safety improvements on PCH, particularly in the area of the crash, which some call "Dead Man's Curve."
The Malibu City Council on Monday heard from dozens of residents calling for action to improve safety and force drivers to slow down on the stretch of road. The council unanimously voted to ask city staff for a report and to consider a motion to declare an emergency, which would free up resources within its jurisdiction to make PCH safer.
Jennifer Seetoo, captain of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Malibu/Lost Hills station, recalled speaking with three of the victims’ families in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a police officer,” Seetoo told the council, adding that it was a task she hoped never to have to repeat. She said there needed to be “substantive change” to make the 21 miles of PCH in Malibu safer.
Mayor Steve Uhring said he would like to see more state support on the issue, especially a return of the California Highway Patrol, which doesn’t monitor the incorporated stretch of PCH in Malibu. He also is hopeful Malibu will be able to take advantage of the state’s new pilot program for speed cameras.
“We’ve got this major highway running through the center of our city — it’s a racetrack; it has been for years,” Uhring said. “We need some help."
Gascón outlined the uptick in traffic deaths, noting that speeds in many incidents have "far exceeded those in the past."
The district attorney, who notoriously campaigned on a pledge to not seek the death penalty in capital cases, said if Bohm were convicted on all counts, "sentencing could be extensive."
Times staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.