- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A man charged with driving a souped-up Ford Mustang that killed two spectators during a Los Angeles street race pleaded not guilty to murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

Karen Balyan, 42, surrendered in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday and remains jailed on $3 million bail, according to the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

His attorney, Michael Kraut, said Balyan was visiting a country that doesn’t have a U.S. extradition treaty but returned to “do the honorable thing” and face charges once he heard about the warrant issued for him. “Everybody feels bad for the events and what happened,” Kraut said. “The facts are going to be laid out during the hearings.”

Authorities say Balyan’s Ford Mustang went out of control during an illegal race Feb. 26 in the Chatsworth section of the San Fernando Valley.

The car veered right, crashing into a crowd on the sidewalk. Eric Siguenza, 26, and Wilson Thomas Wong, 50, died; a third man was seriously injured.

Henry Gevorgyan, 22, of Van Nuys, is accused of aiding and abetting, according to his attorney Kate Hardie. He pleaded not guilty to the two murder charges. Israel Valenzuela, 39, of Los Angeles is accused of driving the other vehicle in the race and also pleaded not guilty to two murder charges.

Hardie said Gevorgyan was a bystander who was asked at the last minute to help with the race by using a flashlight to tell cars when to start racing. She said it’s a stretch of California case law to accuse him of aiding and abetting, and thereby contributing to murder.

“I understand their intellectual theory, but it’s beyond harsh,” Hardie said. “Typically when people speed race and when someone dies they’re only charged with vehicular manslaughter, but the DA has chosen to go for murder. I don’t know if they’re trying to make an example of these guys, but there are other ways to prosecute them without going this far.”

Valenzuela’s attorney, Jay Jaffe, said that his client was about to engage in a speed race, but the Mustang driver spun out of control only several seconds into the race.

“Had the race continued, and was not aborted in the way it was, (Valenzuela) very well could have been a legal cause” of the deaths, Jaffe said. “But because the race was aborted by the conduct of the Mustang driver, my client did not cause the accident.”

Jaffe said Valenzuela is devastated and feels horrible, but was not responsible for what happened.

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