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January 3, 2013

Paparazzi killed while chasing Beiber

LOS ANGELES — The 29-year-old photographer had just snapped shots of Justin Bieber's exotic white Ferrari when he was struck and killed by a passing car — a death that has spurred renewed debate over dangers paparazzi can bring on themselves and the celebrities they chase.

The accident prompted some stars including the teen heartthrob himself on Wednesday to renew their calls for tougher laws to rein in their pursuers, though previous urgings have been stymied by First Amendment protections.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed Thursday that the photographer was Christopher James Guerra. Officials did not know his hometown, coroner's Lt. Larry Dietz said.

In a statement, Bieber said his prayers were with the photographer's family. Ironically, the singer wasn't even in the Ferrari on Tuesday.

"Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves," Bieber said in the statement released by Island Def Jam Music Group.

Much of Hollywood was abuzz about the death, including Miley Cyrus, who sent several tweets critical of some of the actions of paparazzi and lamenting that the unfortunate accident was "bound to happen."

"Hope this paparazzi/JB accident brings on some changes in '13," Cyrus said on her Twitter page. "Paparazzi are dangerous! Wasn't Princess Di enough of a wake-up call?!"

Paparazzi roaming the streets of Southern California have been commonplace for more than a decade as the shutterbugs looked to land exclusive shots that can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Industry veterans recalled incidents where paparazzi chasing celebrities have been injured, but they couldn't remember a photographer being killed while working.

"Here in the state of California, I'm surprised this hasn't happened before," said Giles Harrison, a celebrity photographer and owner of London Entertainment Group.

Harrison is familiar with the backlash against paparazzi. He and another photographer were convicted of misdemeanor false imprisonment and sentenced to jail for boxing in Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family as they sat in their Hummer in 1998.

Citing that incident and the death of Princess Diana, the state Legislature passed its first anti-paparazzi measure a year later. It created hefty civil penalties that could be paid to stars whose privacy was invaded.

Six months ago, a paparazzo was charged with reckless driving in a high-speed pursuit of Bieber and with violating a separate, 2010 state law that toughened punishment for those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain.

However, a judge last month dismissed the paparazzi law charges, saying the law was overly broad.

The judge cited problems with the statute, saying it was aimed at newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment, and lawmakers should have increased penalties for reckless driving rather than target those who photograph celebrities.

City prosecutors said they would appeal the judge's ruling.

The law was prompted by the experiences of Jennifer Aniston, who provided details to a lawmaker about being unable to drive away after she was surrounded by paparazzi on Pacific Coast Highway.

On Tuesday, a friend of Bieber's was behind the wheel of the Ferrari when a California Highway Patrol officer pulled it over for speeding along Interstate 405, authorities said.

The driver, whose name was not released, was given a verbal warning and wasn't ticketed, CHP Officer Vince Ramirez said Thursday.

"This photographer evidently had been following the white Ferrari" and when it was pulled over after sundown he stopped, parked and crossed the street to snap photos, Los Angeles police Detective Charles Walton said.

The photographer stood on a low freeway railing to shoot photographs of the traffic stop over a chain-link fence, authorities said.

"The CHP officer told him numerous times that it wasn't safe for him to be there and to return to his vehicle," Walton said.

There were no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings along the street where the photographer had parked, so the driver of the car that struck him had no reason to expect a pedestrian, Walton said of the accident.

"It would have been very difficult for her to see him," the detective said.

It wasn't immediately clear how fast the motorist, a 69-year-old woman, was traveling, but she was not believe to be at fault and was unlikely to be cited, police said.

Harrison said he routinely tells his photographers to be safe when they are working.

"In any job you have to exercise a degree of common sense and caution," he said.

Harrison hopes celebrities and paparazzi examine their actions to ensure a similar event doesn't happen again. No photo is worth someone's life, he said.

"Everybody wants to be the first one to get that shot, get that scoop," Harrison said. "But at the end of the day, you can't spend money if you are dead."

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