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Driver in Coronado bridge crash pleads not guilty to DUI, manslaughter charges

Driver in Coronado bridge crash pleads not guilty to DUI, manslaughter charges
A pickup driven by a Navy technician flew off a ramp to the San Diego Coronado Bridge and landed at Chicano Park, killing four people. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

A Navy man in bandages and a neck brace pleaded not guilty from his hospital wheelchair Wednesday to charges that he was driving under the influence when his pickup flew off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and killed four people at Chicano Park.

A Superior Court judge, attorneys, a court reporter, bailiffs and two reporters crowded near Anthony Sepolio in a UC San Diego Medical Center conference room as he was arraigned on four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two other DUI-related charges.

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Prosecutor Cally Bright said Sepolio had a 0.08% blood-alcohol level half an hour after the crash. That is the legal limit for drivers in California.

Sepolio and a friend had taken an Uber ride to a restaurant Saturday, where they had a bottle of wine and cocktails, Bright said. After the pair returned to his friend's apartment, according to the prosecutor, she urged him not to drive home to Coronado because he'd been drinking.

Sepolio's attorney, Paul Pfingst, said his client was not under the influence at the time and that his pickup had been cut off by another vehicle, causing him to swerve and go off the side of the bridge.

Pfingst also said the bridge's bad design allowed for such incidents.

Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide set Sepolio's bail at $2 million. Bright said he faces up to 23 years, eight months in prison if convicted of all charges.

Sepolio, 24, is a Navy aviation technician stationed at North Island in Coronado. He lost control of his pickup while transitioning from northbound Interstate 5 onto the bridge about 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

The pickup crashed through a barrier wall next to traffic lanes, soared over a bandstand and landed in the park, which at the time was packed with about 3,000 people.

Killed were Cruz Contreras, 52, and his wife, Annamarie Contreras, 50, of Chandler, Ariz.; and Andre Banks, 49, and his wife, Francine Jimenez, 46, of Hacienda Heights.

Sepolio and three other people were hospitalized with major injuries, Bright said during the hearing. Authorities said five other people were treated for lesser injuries.

Pfingst said Sepolio suffered a fractured neck, broken left hand, broken ribs and other injuries. He sat silently through the 10-minute hearing, except to softly agree that his preliminary hearing could be set for Jan. 25.

According to Pfingst, Sepolio was on pain medication but able to understand the proceedings.

pauline.repard@sduniontribune.com

Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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