LOS ANGELES -- A man was charged Wednesday with capital murder after prosecutors say he drove his family off a Los Angeles pier, killing his two severely autistic sons.
Ali Elmezayen (EL-mah-ZION) faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder and there's a special circumstance allegation that the killings were carried out for financial gain, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.
Elmezayen is in federal custody on insurance fraud charges related to the 2015 pier plunge. Prosecutors in that case said he purchased $6 million in insurance policies to cover his family in the event of an accidental death.
A lawyer for Elmezayen, 44, could not be found. The murder case will proceed after the insurance fraud trial, set to begin Sept. 3, is completed. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Investigators said Elmezayen intentionally barreled off the edge of commercial fishing dock in San Pedro with his partner and two children inside the vehicle.
Elmezayen's car window was open, and he surfaced within 30 seconds and swam to a ladder on the pier. His partner, Rabab Diab, couldn't swim, but authorities said she was rescued by a fisherman after surfacing and screaming, "My kids, my kids."
"The poor lady was screaming hysterically," said fisherman Ray Prince. "I thought she was going to drown."
Two boys, Abdelkarim, 8, and Elhassan, 13, couldn't swim and were strapped in child seats. They were pulled lifeless from the car by rescue divers.
Elmezayen collected more than $260,000 in insurance payouts for the deaths and wired more than $170,000 back to his native Egypt, prosecutors in the fraud case said.
The district attorney initially declined to bring charges in the deaths because of insufficient evidence. A police mechanic found evidence that the brake pedal didn't properly work, but couldn't tell if that was the case before the tragedy or because of salt water corrosion.
Prosecutors said Wednesday the charges are a result of further investigation.
If convicted in the murder case, Elmezayen faces life in prison without parole, or the death penalty, although prosecutors have not decided on that possibility.