Then he stepped on the accelerator and plunged into the crowd.
‘‘I heard a big ‘boom, boom,’ like the sound of someone going up and down the curb, it was super loud,’’ said Alex Hagan, who was working the desk at the hotel.
The driver knocked over two mannequins and an ATM and started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors — a fortune teller, a couple selling jewelry and a woman who does tattooing.
Two women who appeared to be in their 60s were also hit. Many people ran after the car, screaming and cursing as it sped away, Hagan said.
Golestan Alipour was bartending at Candle Cafe & Grill when the menacing vehicle drew near.
‘‘The restaurant was full. Everybody ran,’’ Alipour said.
Witnesses said the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.
The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean. The car was later found abandoned less than two miles away, police said.
At the scene, detectives searched for evidence across the boardwalk, which is in a part of Los Angeles known for eccentricities. The 1.5-mile ribbon of asphalt — which runs along the sand a few hundred yards from the ocean — is home to galleries, restaurants, tattoo shops, skateboard parks and the famous outdoor weight room known as Muscle Beach. It can draw as many as 150,000 people on summer weekends.
Hodge said she and her friend, Ashley Taylor, had noted the large number of people walking along the seaside.
‘‘It was a really nice day. There were tons of people out. In fact, we were talking about how packed it was, because we were having a hard time getting through all the people,’’ Hodge said.
The two women stopped to buy ice cream and a couple of hats, which may have saved their lives. They stepped out of a store as emergency crews arrived.
Hodge saw a man and woman lying next to each other, wearing head braces, barely able to move but grasping hands.
Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin said there have been previous problems with motorists accidentally driving onto the boardwalk, especially during the evening, because many entrances aren’t blocked and there are no signs warning them about entering a pedestrian area.
However, four yellow metal poles blocked the roadway used by the hit-and-run driver, who squeezed past the barrier by driving onto a sidewalk, authorities said.
‘‘The frightening part,’’ Bonin said, was that this part of the boardwalk was ‘‘one of the more protected streets.’’
The crash was not far from where an elderly driver sped through an open-air farmer’s market in Santa Monica in 2003, killing 10 people and injuring more than 70 others.
Investigators said George Weller, who was 86 at the time, mistakenly stepped on the gas instead of the brake and then panicked. He was doing up to 60 mph when he plowed through the market. Weller was convicted of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and was sentenced to probation.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.
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Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams