Suspect in fatal Venice boardwalk crash confessed, police say
About two hours after a car sped onto the Venice boardwalk and barreled through the crowd, killing an Italian honeymooner, Santa Monica police say Nathan Campbell walked into their station and confessed.
“I’m the one you’re looking for,” Campbell said, according to the front desk officer. “I hit all those people.”
Santa Monica police Officer Brent Wilkening testified Wednesday, the second day of Campbell’s preliminary hearing, that Campbell said little besides the initial confession to him just before 8 p.m. on Aug. 3.
According to Wilkening, Campbell said he had parked his car about a mile away and walked to the police station, stopping at a liquor store for a drink. As he talked with officers, he mumbled and kept his head down and shoulders slumped, Wilkening said.
Wearing an ill-fitting, blue button-down shirt and dark slacks, Campbell sat stoically as Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila argued that it was Campbell who drove the 2008 Dodge Avenger onto the boardwalk about 6 p.m. that day.
The driver hit the crowd, killing Alice Gruppioni, 32. Witnesses testified that the Avenger drove around barriers and over the sidewalk to get onto the boardwalk.
Gruppioni and her husband, Christian Casedei, were on their honeymoon when she was killed. Her aunt, Katia Gruppioni, traveled more than 6,000 miles from Bologna, Italy, for some of the hearing, saying she was the only family member who could endure the “additional emotional burden” of attending. Other relatives plan to make the trip if the case goes to trial.
“We want to know what happened. We want to know why,” Gruppioni said Tuesday. “We want to know that justice will be made somehow.”
Katriye Marshall, 33, testified Tuesday that she was visiting from Britain with her boyfriend when the car plowed into market stores and picked up speed as it headed toward them.
“At that point, I told Aaron, ‘We need to run,’” she testified. They tried to flee, but the driver followed them, and the front of the car struck Marshall’s legs, sending her onto the ground. Marshall sustained bruises to both shins and cuts to her elbow.
Video played in court Wednesday showed the crowd of boardwalk visitors parting as the Avenger sped down the footpath. After a man helped her up, Marshall said, she heard people talking about someone lying nearby. She said she saw a woman covered with blood, lying immobile, face down.
Other witnesses — all from out of state — testified that they were confused when they first saw the car drive onto the boardwalk.
“I quickly realized it wasn’t a show,” said Mike Giantomaso of Pennsylvania, who was visiting the boardwalk with his wife and four children. “When I looked up, it was coming straight at us.”
Jessie White, 31, a transient who lives in Venice, testified Wednesday that he saw the driver get into the car and hit the Italian honeymooners first, then accelerate toward more people.
“He hit them dead-on,” White said of the car’s driver. “He didn’t care, he just hopped in his car and gunned it down the boardwalk.”
He also said Campbell was not the driver. White testified that he had helped the driver try to buy methamphetamine about an hour before the crash, then saw the man get angry and say he was going to drive into people when he did not receive the drugs.
Avila said who White identified was not as important as the conduct he described.
“We’re focused on the totality of the evidence,” he said.
Wednesday’s testimony concluded with an LAPD mechanic saying the Avenger was in working condition and registered to Campbell.
Campbell faces 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 17 counts of hit-and-run, as well as one count of murder in Gruppioni’s death.
The preliminary hearing will be in recess until Dec. 17, when the next group of witnesses, many from out of the country, are expected to testify.
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