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David Foster’s 911 Emergency Call Shows He Though Ben Vereen was Dying

June 12, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Moments after his vehicle hit Ben Vereen, record producer David Foster told a 911 operator that a badly injured pedestrian lay nearby and, ″I think he’s going to die,″ according to an audio tape.

Vereen was walking on Pacific Coast Highway shortly after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday when he was struck by Foster’s Chevrolet Suburban. He remained in critical condition Friday at University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center.

In a recording of the 911 call placed to the California Highway Patrol, a stunned Foster pleaded over his cellular telephone for an ambulance to help Vereen, who was knocked 130 feet after impact.

The tape was obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

Foster and Vereen, who are neighbors in Malibu, recently worked together during an AIDS benefit, but Foster didn’t recognize the man he hit on the dark, hilly section of highway.

″He was just, he walked right in front of my car,″ Foster told the operator before paramedics arrived. ″I mean, he looks like maybe he’s a homeless person.″

At that point, the headlights of a car could be seen bearing down on Vereen, who was sprawled on the highway with severe internal and head injuries, as well as a broken leg.

″Oh man, there’s a car coming. I’m going to have to try to get the car’s attention without getting hit myself,″ said Foster.

″OK, I don’t want you to endanger yourself,″ the operator said.

″I know, but they can hit this man again,″ replied Foster, who managed to wave the car down in time.

He later told the operator: ″He’s breathing, but he’s not in good shape. I think he’s going to die. ... Ma’am I hit him, I must have been doing 45 mph.″

Vereen, 45, underwent four hours of surgery Tuesday and he has been listed in critical condition at the UCLA Medical Center’s intensive care unit, said spokesman Richard Elbaum. Doctors said it was too early for a prognosis.

The hospital has been deluged with hundreds of calls and telegrams from well-wishers that included Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Janet Jackson, Red Skelton and Richard Pryor, said Elbaum.

Vereen is perhaps best known for his performance in the miniseries ″Roots″ and his Tony-winning role in Broadway’s ″Pippin.″

Deputy Robert Evans, lead investigator in the accident, said Foster did everything he could do to avoid hitting Vereen, who apparently was walking from his manager’s beach house to his Point Dume home five miles away.

Foster, a Grammy-winning composer and producer who has collaborated with Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson, has been in seclusion since the crash.

Foster said at one point during the conversation with the 911 operator: ″This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. ... I’m gonna be in big trouble, I know. ... I can’t believe this.″

Minutes later, Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics arrived.

″They’re here. ... The fire department,″ Foster said.

″OK, the sheriff’s are on their way, too, David. I want you to calm down now, OK?,″ the dispatcher told him.

″Yeah,″ said Foster.

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