Man sentenced in crash that caused electrocution of 2 good Samaritans

By FRED SHUSTER, City News Service
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In this Aug. 22, 2012 file photo, firefighters and paramedics rush a gravely injured unidentified woman to an ambulance as water gushes from hydrant after a collision in North Hollywood. (AP Photo/Rick McClure, File)

In this Aug. 22, 2012 file photo, firefighters and paramedics rush a gravely injured unidentified woman to an ambulance as water gushes from hydrant after a collision in North Hollywood. (AP Photo/Rick McClure, File)

VAN NUYS (CNS) – A Glendale man who crashed an SUV in Valley Village and sheared a fire hydrant, leading to the electrocution of two good Samaritans who rushed to the scene and stepped in water electrified by a toppled light pole, was sentenced today to three years probation.

Arman Samsonian, 21, also must perform 70 days of community labor and spend one day working at the county morgue.

He pleaded no contest in May to vehicular manslaughter for the Aug. 22, 2012, crash. A second vehicular manslaughter count was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Samsonian was charged in October 2012 in connection with the collision, in which the SUV he was driving sheared a fire hydrant and downed a light pole near the corner of Magnolia Boulevard and Ben Avenue, creating a pool of electrified water.

Stacey Lee Schreiber, 39, of Valley Village, and Irma Zamora, 40, of Burbank, were electrocuted when they stepped in the water while running to the scene of the crash.

Zamora was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her husband behind the SUV that crashed, and Schreiber rushed out of her home to help Samsonian.

Six other people suffered electrical burns, and five were hospitalized for a time. One of the injured was a patrol officer from the LAPD’s North Hollywood station who suffered a shock through one of his boots, police said.

Samsonian’s friend, Ashot Avanisian, testified at a hearing last year that he and Samsonian were each shocked while trying to help the women.

Samsonian, who was accompanied by family members in court, declined to comment after the sentencing hearing.

In court, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Michael V. Jesic told Samsonian he was “unbelievably fortunate today.”

“You’re lucky to be alive,” the judge said. “This is absolutely tragic — and I know you never meant to hurt someone that day.”

Jesic noted that Samsonian had a clean record prior to the crash.

“But you picked a doozy to start with,” he said. “You destroyed a lot of lives. … Just realize whatever decision you make affects the people around you.”

The judge warned Samsonian that he would go “straight to prison” if he commits any another vehicular violations while on probation.

Samsonian’s attorney, Andrew Flier, said outside court the deaths of two people was a tragic accident.

“Sometimes when you go to help people, it backfires,” he said. “I commend the two women who went to help, but it was an accident.”

A police detective who interviewed Samsonian while he was in the hospital after the crash testified last year that Samsonian said he got impatient because traffic was piling up and that he began driving in the center lane. He told police he had returned to the main lane and was going about 15 to 20 mph when he tried to turn.

Flier argued during a preliminary hearing that, “Clearly, based on this evidence, this is a tragic accident … It’s so unforeseeable that people are going to die from being electrocuted.”

He acknowledged that his client “might have been speeding” but argued that Samsonian could not have foreseen the possibility of an electrified pool of water being created in a crash.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Carey countered at that hearing that Samsonian had been “speeding down a crowded road” and that it was reasonably foreseeable that someone might be injured if he was to crash on a street lined with power lines and light poles.

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