LOS ANGELES — Tourists who witnessed a terrifying auto rampage along a crowded Venice Beach boardwalk testified Tuesday that the driver seemed to be aiming for people.
The witnesses testified in court at the first of a two-part preliminary hearing for 38-year-old Nathan Louis Campbell. A prosecutor said that, due to witness schedules, the hearing would stop and pick up again in two months. Campbell appeared in court in street clothes, gray pants and shirt, with stubble of beard.
A judge eventually will rule whether Campbell should stand trial on one count of murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and 17 counts of hit-and-run. Italian newlywed Alice Gruppioni, 32, who was on her honeymoon, was killed in the August incident, and sixteen others were injured.
Campbell has pleaded not guilty and his attorney has called it “a horrible accident.”
Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila showed surveillance camera footage that showed the man entering his car and driving through the mass of people. There were many scenes of people running in panic. The witnesses were asked if the driver ever honked his horn in warning and they said no.
A woman from England who had been vacationing in Venice said she was hit by a car and suffered minor injuries on her legs, but saw others more gravely injured. Katriye Marshall said she and her boyfriend tried to flee but when she turned, the car swerved and aimed at her.
Two more witnesses from Indiana and Pennsylvania gave their accounts of the actions of Campbell and said he appeared very focused as he plowed into the crowd in August.
Landen Blackburn of Indiana and Mike Giantomaso of Pennsylvania recalled the driver looking straight ahead as he raced along, revving the engine.
“You saw things fly all over the place,” said Giantomaso. “It’s Venice Beach and I didn’t know if it was a show or something. And then we realized it just wasn’t a show. When I looked up it was coming straight at us.”
He said he and his wife and four children stepped back to avoid the car. Marshall said she saw the body of the woman who was killed.
“I saw a woman lying face down with her arms at her side, and she wasn’t moving,” Marshall said. “There was a lot of blood from her head.”
Blackburn said he saw the man enter his car and “his facial expression was focused. It wasn’t like ‘Oh God what happened.’ It was like, he wasn’t intending to stop.”
Katia Gruppioni, 51, of Pianoro, Italy, the aunt of the woman who was killed, flew to Los Angeles to represent the family and sat in the back row of the court room listening to testimony.
“What we want is just justice. Not revenge. Just justice,” she said.
Christian Casadei, 33, and Alice Gruppioni were on their honeymoon after getting married July 20.
“When she left us, she was really at the top of her happiness,” Katia Gruppioni said. “She’d found her soulmate. She had a brilliant life. She had a loving family. She was surrounded by love. She had it all.”
If convicted, Campbell could face life in prison.