LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 22-year-old driver of a BMW that struck and killed four Pepperdine University students in Malibu, California, last week pleaded not guilty Wednesday to four counts of murder, and prosecutors said he was speeding at more than 100 mph moments before the crash.
Fraser Michael Bohm was also charged with four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced at a news conference. Bohm entered not-guilty pleas to the eight felony charges at a court hearing Wednesday, a day after his arrest.
Investigators believe Bohm’s car reached 104 mph (167 kph) on a winding stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway where the posted speed limit is 45 mph (72 kph), Gascón said.
“The investigation revealed the defendant knew his actions were dangerous to human life and deliberately acted with a conscious disregard for human life,” he said.
The defendant’s attorney, Michael Kraut, told The Associated Press the crash occurred as Bohm was being chased following a road rage incident. Bohm had been texting at a stop light when a man in another car began shouting and then pursued him, Kraut said.
“The guy comes into his lane, hits my client’s car with his car and forces him off the road,” Kraut said.
Bohm passed all field sobriety tests following the crash, Kraut said, and has no criminal record, “not even a traffic ticket.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Arens said at the news conference that investigators had “no evidence” that the crash stemmed from a road rage incident.
Bohm had initially been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after the Oct. 17 crash but was released a day later while investigators gathered more evidence, according to a statement from the sheriff’s department.
“In this specific case, the evidence including toxicology, speed analysis, execution of search warrants, etc. was still pending and took additional time to collect,” the statement said.
Bohm’s bail was first set at $8 million and was later lowered to $4 million, the district attorney’s office said.
Pepperdine identified those killed as Niamh Rolston, Peyton Stewart, Asha Weir and Deslyn Williams, all seniors at the school’s Seaver College of Liberal Arts.
The four sorority sisters were walking along the road around 8:30 p.m. a few miles from the campus when the driver lost control and sideswiped at least three parked vehicles before crashing into them and hitting two other people, according to authorities. The four women died at the scene and the two others were taken to a hospital with injuries.
“The Sheriff’s Department is relentlessly working to ensure we get justice for the victims’ families,” the agency’s statement said.
Weir was from Philadelphia and studying English, while Rolston, from Los Angeles, and Stewart, from New York, were both studying business, according to CBS Los Angeles. Williams was from an Atlanta suburb and considered becoming a veterinarian.
Provost Jay Brewster at a campus prayer service last week called them “bright lights with promise and aspirations.”
The crash has renewed calls for increased safety measures on the section of scenic highway west of Los Angeles that some call “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Bohm, who turned 22 the day before the crash, was a student athlete during high school. A 2017 Los Angeles Times story said the infielder-pitcher at Chaminade Prep was “highly regarded.”
If convicted as charged, Bohm could face multiple life sentences, the district attorney’s office said.