A judge could rule Wednesday whether a 38-year-old man will have to stand trial for allegedly driving his car into crowds of people on the Venice boardwalk last summer, killing an Italian woman on her honeymoon and injuring 17 others.
Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila and defense attorney Philip Dube are set to make final arguments before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Antonio Barreto Jr. in the preliminary hearing for Nathan Louis Campbell, who is charged with one count of murder, 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 18 counts of leaving the scene of an accident.
Alice Gruppioni, a 32-year-old woman visiting Venice on her honeymoon, was killed when Campbell allegedly sped south down Ocean Front Walk from Dudley Avenue to near Sunset Avenue Aug. 3, causing chaos and panic at one of Los Angeles' biggest tourist magnets.
Final arguments in the hearing -- which will determine whether there is enough evidence for Campbell to stand trial -- had been set for Jan. 2, but Campbell's attorney said he had not had time to review court transcripts and was not ready to proceed.
Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila objected to any delay, but the judge agreed to a six-day postponement.
During testimony at the preliminary hearing last month, John Drolette told the judge that he was standing on the second-floor balcony of the nearby Cadillac Hotel when a car entered the boardwalk.
"He hit an ATM machine and just shattered it basically," Drolette said, noting that the vehicle then went toward the beach and hit a vendor's tent before veering left and going down the boardwalk.
He testified that a woman was knocked onto the vehicle's hood and two vendors were knocked back toward the sand as the car "revved up" and "continued down the boardwalk."
"A little bit further down the boardwalk, her body rolled off the vehicle," Drolette said of the woman who was atop the car's hood.
He said that people started screaming when the tent was hit and that people "naturally parted."
"It went left, right, zigging down the boardwalk, hitting people who had moved out of the way," the observer said.
Mustafa Balci, a vendor who was sitting with his wife in a booth on Ocean Front Walk, testified that he saw the vehicle hit an ATM but expected it to stop as it continued toward him.
"When the car hit the trash can, it slowed him down a little bit. I thought it was going to stop right there, but it continued," Balci said. "That trash can saved my life."
He said the vehicle's front bumper hit both of his knees, which he said have been "weak" since the crash. He said his wife was thrown about eight feet to the grass.
Kevin Salveson, who was bicycling with his two children on the bike path nearby, said he heard a scream and saw the car slam into several booths.
"No, absolutely not," Salveson said when asked if the car's driver had honked his horn or warned any pedestrians.
He said he was shocked that the driver didn't stop and just kept going, saying he saw the man smiling.
"I saw that he didn't have any remorse," Salveson said, describing the man as "smiling like he enjoyed what he had just done."
The defense attorney questioned what Salveson had seen, noting that Campbell is missing teeth.
In other testimony, Los Angeles police Detective Robert Riske said he spoke with the dead woman's husband, Christian Casadei, and was informed that they were newlyweds who were visiting Los Angeles who were due to travel next to Tahiti. The woman's husband told police the two were walking southbound on Ocean Front Walk when he heard the revving of a car behind them.
Casadei told police that he grabbed his wife and tried to run toward a building, but that she was no where to be seen after the car came toward them. Casadei told police he saw his wife -- who was bleeding and appeared to be unconscious -- surrounded by bystanders further down the boardwalk, the detective testified.
Los Angeles police Sgt. Benjamin Zucker testified that he could smell a "moderate" odor of alcohol when he met with Campbell a few hours later. He said Campbell told him that he had drunk vodka after the crash.
Campbell has remained jailed since then.
- City News Service