Officers Testify At Pre-Trial Hearing Of Man Accused In Deadly Beach Auto Rampage
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man charged with murder after his automobile plowed through the Venice Beach boardwalk last summer smelled of alcohol when he surrendered to authorities, a police officer testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing.
Soon after the Aug. 3 incident that killed one person and injured 17 others, Nathan Campbell parked his car on a Santa Monica street not far from the carnage. From there he walked to a police station, where he told officers he had drank vodka immediately after the crash.
“You could smell the odor of alcohol coming from his person and his breath,” Los Angeles police Sgt. Benjamin Zucker said.
Superior Court Judge Antonio Barretto declined to immediately enter into evidence a blood-alcohol test conducted on Campbell, but the results showed he had double the legal limit of .08 in his system.
Campbell is charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run driving.
After witnesses complete their testimony Wednesday, the judge said he would adjourn Campbell’s case until Jan. 2, when attorneys may make their final arguments. After that, Barretto said, he’ll decide whether Campbell, 38, should be ordered to stand trial on 37 counts.
Asked by Campbell’s attorney if the defendant was cooperative, Zucker said he was.
“He said he drank vodka after the accident,” Zucker said, adding Campbell denied being on any drugs.
Another witness, Los Angeles police Det. Robert Riske testified that he interviewed the husband of an Italian woman who was killed by the car that roared through the crowded tourist area.
“He told me they were newlyweds and were on their honeymoon,” Riske said.
He said the man told him he heard the car coming up behind him and grabbed his wife and tried to run but became separated from her when he fell to the ground.
Minutes later, Riske said the man told him, he saw his wife down the boardwalk, lying gravely injured.
Alice Gruppioni died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and multiple skull fractures, according to a coroner’s report entered into evidence. Gruppioni, 32, was from Bologna, Italy.
Sixteen others were injured, including Nancy Martinez, who sat in a wheelchair and wore a back brace Tuesday as she tearfully recounted the rampage through a Spanish interpreter. She said the Dodge Avenger slammed into her back, turning a cheerful summer evening into a scene of pain and death.
Most witnesses said they couldn’t see the car’s driver, but Kevin Salveson testified that it was Campbell.
“I saw part of his face and he was smiling,” Salveson said Tuesday. “I saw that he didn’t have any remorse — smiling like he enjoyed what he had done.”
Public defender Philip Dube noted that the defendant has no teeth, suggesting it was unlikely he was smiling.
Prosecutors contend that Campbell, a transient from Colorado, intentionally drove onto a sidewalk to bypass barrier posts and targeted vendor booths and pedestrians, plowing into them at speeds of up to 35 mph.
Dube has said Campbell was “profoundly depressed” after the incident and he did not intentionally try to hit anybody. The defense attorney called it a horrible accident.
Another witness, John Drolette of Fresno, said he was in an upstairs motel room overlooking the boardwalk when he heard a car engine revving, then saw the driver crash into an automatic teller machine and knock over several vendors’ tents.
The motorist struck a woman and kept going with her on the car’s hood until she finally was flung off, Drolette said.
Mustafa Balci said he and his wife were inside their tent when the car plowed into both of them.
“I thought, ‘It’s going to stop.’ But it didn’t,” he said.
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