Venice Boardwalk driver sentenced to 42 years to life in state prison
The women projected onto a video screen in a Los Angeles courtroom sang in Italian -- a song about cherishing life’s fleeting moments of happiness.
They swayed back and forth in unison, their arms locked together.
Alice Gruppioni threw her head back as she belted out the tune with her relatives in their native Italy to mark her aunt’s 50th birthday. There was much to cherish about life: She was weeks away from marrying her fiance and heading for their honeymoon in California.
The bittersweet tune sung on the video seems prophetic today.
It was during a stroll with her new husband on their honeymoon in Los Angeles that she was killed when a man bulldozed his car into pedestrians on the Venice boardwalk.
On the video played in court, Gruppioni’s aunt said the birthday celebration and wedding are the last memories she has of her niece.
“These were really the best days of our lives,” Katia Gruppioni said. “I think of it as the real last day of innocent happiness we had together as Gruppioni girls.”
As the video played, the man who drove the car, Nathan Louis Campbell, stared at the screen, grimacing and fidgeting in his seat.
Katia Gruppioni asked the judge to sentence Campbell to the maximum allowed by law for Alice’s death.
“We serve forever a life sentence, the worst and hardest kind,” she said. “We did nothing to deserve it.”
Campbell, 40, was sentenced on Friday to 42 years to life in state prison for causing the death of Gruppioni and injuring 17 others. A jury convicted him earlier this year of second-degree murder and several counts of assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run.
During the hearing, Campbell read from a letter in which he apologized but insisted that he had not been acting intentionally. In the audience, one of the victims, Judy Fox, shook her head and closed her eyes at his comments.
“This incident has been a lasting nightmare for everyone involved,” Campbell said. “A nightmare that I am responsible for causing.”
As he read, speaking softly, he explained that he had been tired and exhausted and made a mistake in shifting gears, leading to the crash.
“There are no words that could ever accurately express how truly sorry I am for what happened that day,” he said, adding that he hoped the victims and their families “will find some small measure of peace in their lives.”
Superior Court Judge Kathyrn Solorzano later scolded Campbell for continuing to insist that the incident was an accident, saying evidence showed he displayed a complete disregard for human life and that the agony he caused his victims and their families could have been avoided.
“All you had to do was stop,” Solorzano said. “All you had to do was walk away and you chose not to do that.”
During the trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila described Campbell as frustrated, angry and intent on inflicting pain on others in the Aug. 3, 2013, incident. Upset after a botched effort to buy drugs, Campbell got into his Dodge Avenger and decided to jump a curb, maneuver past barriers meant to block vehicle access and plow through the packed boardwalk, the prosecutor argued.
Before Friday’s sentencing, Avila read letters from Joanna Botton and her fiance, John Israel, a French couple who were injured in the crash. In her letter, Botton said the couple heard a loud noise behind them and turned to see Campbell’s car barreling toward them.
“That moment I told myself I was going to die,” Botton wrote.
After the crash, she saw a man tending to a badly injured woman, who she later learned was Gruppioni. She wrote that she has been unable to forget seeing Gruppioni sprawled on the concrete, her lifeless body bathed in her own blood and her husband screaming and crying helplessly.
“I think ‘Why me? Why us? Why am I still alive? How did I manage to survive?’” Botton wrote. “Nathan Campbell destroyed me. He broke me. He ruined my life.”
For more court news, follow @sjceasar.
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