Man held in fatal hit-run on packed L.A. boardwalk

1 dead, 11 hurt in suspected deliberate incident

8/5/2013
BLADE NEWS SERVICES
Police and fire officials respond to the scene where a car drove through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.
Police and fire officials respond to the scene where a car drove through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — Police arrested a man on suspicion of murder after a driver plowed into crowds on the Venice Beach boardwalk, a seemingly intentional hit-and-run that killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and injured 11 others.

Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, was arrested Saturday after he walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica about two hours after the incident and told police that he was involved.

Mr. Campbell remained jailed on $1 million bail.

Police declined to discuss a motive, but Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there was no indication that the attack was a terrorist act or that anyone else was involved.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, Cmdr. Andrew Smith, said it appeared that the driver had acted deliberately.

“This wasn’t somebody who was lost and was trying to turn onto the freeway,” he said. “It looks like an intentional act.”

Security video showed a man parking a black car, stepping out and surveying the leisurely scene for several minutes, then getting back into the vehicle and speeding into the crowd.

Hundreds of people who had been walking or sitting at cafes raced to get out of the way.

The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean.

The car was found abandoned less than two miles away, police said.

Witnesses reported a horrifying aftermath.

“Bodies were flying in the air and people were screaming. It was absolute mayhem,” witness Dave Blackburn told KABC-TV.

“People screaming, running. I was half a mile from the scene, but you could see just this mass of people trying to get out of the way,” said Daniel Regidor, 50, who was running nearby when the crash occurred. “Just a lot of people screaming. ... It was horrible.”

In this still frame made from security camera footage from Snapchat Inc., pedestrians scatter as a car drives through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.
In this still frame made from security camera footage from Snapchat Inc., pedestrians scatter as a car drives through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

“I saw somebody flying up in the air,” Mr. Regidor said. “When I came upon the scene, there were a bunch of people on the ground, bloodied.”

Daniel Jenkins, 19, was selling medical marijuana-related art and souvenirs on the pedestrian walkway and witnessed the incident.

He said the vehicle appeared to speed up after it hit the pedestrians and “zoomed all the way down” for several blocks.

People were “stumbling around, blood dripping down their legs, looking confused, not knowing what had happened, people screaming,” said Louisa Hodge, who described “blocks and blocks of people just strewn across the sidewalk.”

The Italian woman who died was identified as Alice Gruppioni, 32.

Her family in Bologna told the Italian news agency LaPresse that she had been on her honeymoon after a July 31 wedding.

It was not clear how fast the car was going.

Witnesses estimated the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.

According to security video and witness accounts, the driver parked next to the Cadillac Hotel and twice walked out to the boardwalk before getting into the Dodge Avenger and accelerating, swerving around yellow poles intended to block cars from reaching the pedestrian-only area and onto the boardwalk.

“I heard a big ‘boom, boom,’ like the sound of someone going up and down the curb, it was super loud,” said Alex Hagan, 22, who was working the desk at the Cadillac Hotel and watched the scene unfold from the start.

The driver knocked over two mannequins and then started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into them.

Video showed the car hitting at least three vendors who were sitting at their sales booths.

Many people ran after the car, screaming and cursing as it sped away, Mr. Hagan said.

Golestan Alipour, bartender at Candle Cafe & Grill, said the sedan carefully maneuvered between a storefront and metal poles that had been erected to prevent anyone from driving onto the boardwalk.

A free-standing ATM barely slowed his race toward the crowds.

“The restaurant was full. Everybody ran,” Mr. Alipour said.

The car went on for several blocks, knocking down a fortune teller who had a table on the boardwalk, a couple selling jewelry, and a woman who does tattooing, Mr. Alipour said.

The boardwalk, which is in a part of Los Angeles known for eccentricities, is a 1.5-mile ribbon of asphalt that runs along the sand a few hundred yards from the ocean. It’s home to galleries, restaurants, tattoo shops, skateboard parks, and the famous outdoor weight room known as Muscle Beach.

It can draw as many as 150,000 people on summer weekends.

Ms. Hodge said she and her friend, Ashley Taylor, had made note of the numbers walking along the seaside.

“It was a really nice day, there were tons of people out, in fact, we were talking about how packed it was, because we were having a hard time getting through all the people,” Ms. Hodge said.

The two women stopped to buy ice cream and a couple of hats, which may have saved their lives. They stepped out of a store to see the aftermath as emergency crews arrived and started putting victims on tarps.

“The frightening part,” Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin said, was that this part of the boardwalk was “one of the more protected streets.”