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The Beverly Hills Police Department has obtained and reviewed private surveillance camera video taken from a Whittier Drive house that shows slain publicist Ronni Chasen’s car crashing into a light pole on the street Nov. 16, according to the home’s residents. It is the first known video of the early-morning incident.
According to Josh Zayon, 29, and Robbie Schaeffer, 31, footage from two cameras at their Whittier Drive home shows Chasen’s black Mercedes-Benz driving southbound on Whittier, slowing but not stopping at a stop sign at North Linden Drive, and continuing on briefly before crashing into a light pole.
The video footage also shows a northbound black Lincoln Town Car driving by Chasen’s crashed E350 coupe within a minute of the accident and not stopping, Zayon and Schaeffer said.
“From what I saw in the footage, there was a town car that didn’t stop and it probably should have based on the circumstances,” said Zayon, who added that the town car’s license plate number is not discernible in the video. Moments later, police arrived on the scene.
The footage is noteworthy because the presence of the town car has not previously been reported and the video would also appear to allow investigators to rule out several potential scenarios for the incident. It is believed the shooting occurred while Chasen was stopped at a red light at Sunset Boulevard and Whittier, with the assailant firing shots at the publicist through her passenger-side window.
However, some news reports have suggested Chasen was shot closer to the stretch of Whittier where her car crashed. The video, which shows the publicist driving down Whittier at 12:27 a.m., does not offer a view of Sunset or include footage of the shooting.
Criminal experts cautioned that the while the town car is a detail investigators would look into, it’s likely there is an innocuous explanation for its presence and that it is probably not connected to the shooting of the veteran publicist.
“Who is driving town cars? Not the owners, not concerned citizens, it is people on time schedules,” said former Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman, who investigated Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman murders and is now an author. “If you are driving a company car do you really think your company wants you to get involved in helping someone with an accident instead of picking up someone who has to be at the airport?”
Fuhrman said that detectives would likely have already met with local car service companies to determine if any had vehicles dispatched to the area at the time of the shooting. “It’s something you have to check out.”
In response to questions about the surveillance video, Lt. Tony Lee of the Beverly Hills Police Department said in an e-mail that detectives would not “disclose anything related to the investigation.”
Police have also not provided any new information on the “person of interest,” identified in media reports as Harold Smith, who killed himself Dec. 1 when detectives tried to question him in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments in Hollywood. It is unclear how Smith may have been connected to the Chasen shooting.
On Friday, Beverly Hills Police released a statement: “At this time, it is unknown if this individual was involved in the Chasen homicide.”
It has been reported that Smith bragged to a neighbor about killing Chasen and was waiting to be paid $10,000 — at one point saying it was for a job he did and on another occasion saying it stemmed from a lawsuit. (A search by THR of California court records did not show any recent lawsuits involving Smith.)
Zayon and Schaeffer declined to show their surveillance video to THR. Zayon, a student at California State University Northridge, said that Beverly Hills police asked them not to release it and he and Schaeffer also want to keep it private out of respect for Chasen’s family. Zayon said that after reviewing the footage he called the police on Nov. 16 and told them of the video. They picked it up the following day, he said.
“It’s clearly her car,” said Schaeffer, who added that the footage shows Chasen driving down Whittier in a normal fashion. He and Zayon said it is not apparent from the black-and-white video that Chasen has been shot.
“The amazing thing is she is driving straight as an arrow and she brakes right before the stop sign, but then continues,” said Schaeffer.
At the time of the shooting he was in his garage with a friend, working on a bicycle.
“(I was) just working on the bike and out of nowhere, there were five consecutive shots. It is silent after that, and 25 seconds later we heard an impact, like a crunch,” said Schaeffer, who owns and operates a salon.
A three-page preliminary coroner’s report obtained last month by Fox 11 News indicates that Chasen, 64, suffered multiple gunshot wounds, including three to her “right breast/chest area,” according to the Fox newscast. The report notes up to four other gunshot wounds, though it is unclear which are exit or entry points for the bullets. The newscast also said a “9mm hollow-point” bullet was recovered from Chasen’s back at Cedars-Sinai hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 1:12 a.m. Nov 16. Such ammunition is more powerful than conventional rounds, according to criminal experts.
Zayon was driving home when Chasen was shot and passed her crashed car as police were arriving on the scene.
“As I drove past I see a woman slouched in her car,” he said.
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