Venice crash: A noisy moment of silence at tourist hot spot
On Monday evening, the summer crowds were thick on the Venice boardwalk.
Up at Dudley Avenue, near the northern end of the bustling oceanfront strip, a crowd gathered for a vigil to honor the victims of Saturday’s car rampage that injured 16 people and took the life of Italian newlywed Alice Gruppioni.
Apart from the news vans jammed onto Dudley, though, it was a day like any other in one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Visitors on Segways zipped unsteadily past slow-moving sightseers. Skateboarders and bicyclists weaved in and out of the crowds. Overhead, a few people whizzed by on the new zip line near the skateboard and graffitti pits.
It could have been the spectacular weather or the proliferation of TV cameras, but the boardwalk hummed with all its usual commercial intensity and slightly dangerous vibe. All the regulars were out: The guy with a leashed cat on his head and a sign on his backpack: “My cat surfs. Can yours?” The man with a pink and green plastic dollhouse stuck on top of his fake leopard hat. The bodybuilders who look like inverted human triangles in skimpy bikinis. The medical marijuana peddlers in their fake green scrubs.
A masked drummer played along to some truly awful amplified electronic music.
Harry Perry, in his white turban and skates, inflicted his electrified guitar on anyone within earshot.
A lost-looking couple in a rental car had somehow blundered across the boardwalk from Market Street and had ended up on the west side of the boardwalk, where cars are not allowed. They turned around and slowly drove back across the boardwalk onto Market, parting but not alarming the crowds.
“The cops will tell you that as many as 15 or 20 times a day someone will accidentally come down one of these streets,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, standing on a grassy strip between the boardwalk and the bike path. “The typical person who accidentally crosses the boardwalk is a tourist who is unfamiliar with the area, who may be following GPS which says take a left on Oceanfront Walk.”
In the aftermath of Saturday’s traumatic event, he’s been tossing around ideas for better boardwalk security: More pole barriers? Giant concrete planters? Better lighting and signage? A public address system?
“It’s probably impossible to make it completely terrorist- or assailant-proof,” Bonin said. “It’s open-air, it’s a park, it’s abutting a residential neighbrhood with virtually unlimited points of ingress and egress, but there’s certainly a lot more that can be done to improve things.”
Still, as Bonin noted, the suspect, who has been identified as 38-year-old Nathan Louis Campbell, drove his car up on the sidewalk and around four yellow barrier poles to get onto Oceanfront Walk: “It’s very hard to stop a determined sicko, frankly, that wants to cause harm and mayhem.”
At 6 p.m. as the vigil got underway a couple of local businessmen announced a Kickstarter-type fundraising effort for Saturday’s victims. Bonin asked the crowd to pray for the victims, and asked for silence.
As people bowed their heads. TV reporter Kate Larsen began her live shot for KNBC-TV, killing the moment in classic broadcaster fashion.
When she was finished, her cameraman said, “When does the 30 seconds of silence begin?”
Moments later, as people laid flowers on the memorial for Gruppioni, Emily Tsakoumakis, who coordinates film shoots on the boardwalk for the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, broke up a loud fight between “Chief,” an agitated homeless guy who wore a badge on his shirt, and “Bandit,” a skateboarder with a scarf over his face. “Get offa my beach,” screamed Chief, alarming the mourners a few feet away.
Tsakoumakis said she often mediates between film crews and the homeless Venetians who have an overdeveloped sense of ownership about Oceanfront Walk.
Saturday’s tragedy, she said, “will shine attention on what Venice Beach is really like. The tourists have an idea that it’s like Disneyland. But there are a lot of desperate people here. I hope it will make people kinder.”
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