A Colorado man drove over a curb and intentionally steered his car along the Venice boardwalk that he knew was packed with summer crowds in August 2013, killing an honeymooning Italian woman and injuring a dozen other people, a prosecutor told a jury Thursday.
Defense attorney James P. Cooper III conceded to the seven-woman, five-man jury that Nathan Louis Campbell “did drive down the boardwalk,” but he insisted the evidence would show his client was “actually avoiding hitting a number of pedestrians.”
Campbell, 39, is charged with one count of murder for the Aug. 3, 2013, death of 32-year-old Alice Gruppioni, along with 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 10 counts of leaving the scene of an accident.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila told jurors that Campbell was angry because he believed a drug dealer had cheated his friend — with one witness expected to testify that Campbell had threatened to run the dealer over. Instead, Campbell struck Gruppioni and 17 other people, with the Italian woman “on the hood of his car for over 300 feet” before her body slid off, the prosecutor said.
Campbell had “full knowledge” of how crowded Venice’s Ocean Front Walk was because surveillance footage showed him walking on the popular tourist destination earlier, the deputy district attorney said.
Witnesses are expected to testify that Campbell never honked the horn of his 2008 blue Dodge Avenger, never stopped his vehicle and never tried to render aid, according to the prosecutor.
“People are avoiding the vehicle,” Avila said. “It’s not the vehicle avoiding people. … A lot more people could have died had they not jumped out of the way.”
Campbell walked into the Santa Monica Police Department a few hours later and said, “I’m the one you’re looking for. I’m the one who hit all those people,” the prosecutor said.
A blood test performed at 2:26 a.m. — hours after the car careened down the boardwalk — showed Campbell’s blood-alcohol content at 0.09, just over the legal limit, Avila said.
Cooper, however, told jurors that the evidence will show his client was not a party to the drug transaction. He acknowledged that Campbell drove onto the boardwalk — although he did not explain why — but said the car struck several objects before hitting any people.
“He did avoid hitting many more people by taking that S-like route down the boardwalk,” the defense attorney said.
Campbell’s attorney said he will ask jurors to acquit his client of murder.
Testimony is expected to begin Friday morning.