Witnesses Recount Horror of Car Rampage at Venice Beach

The man is accused of plowing his car through a crowd on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in August

A woman in a wheelchair testified Tuesday that a car slammed into her back as it plowed through a crowd at the popular Venice Beach boardwalk, turning a cheerful summer evening into a scene of pain and death.

Nancy Martinez, 28, wore a back brace and tearfully recounted the rampage in court.

"It threw me," she said through a Spanish interpreter. "I flew."

Martinez and other witnesses from around the world testified in several languages at a preliminary hearing for Nathan Campbell, 38, a transient from Colorado who has pleaded not guilty to murder, assault and hit-and-run in the Aug. 3 tragedy.

Most witnesses said they had not been able to see the driver, but Kevin Salveson identified Campbell as the man behind the wheel.

"I saw part of his face and he was smiling," Salveson said. "I saw that he didn't have any remorse — smiling like he enjoyed what he had done."

Prosecutors contend that Campbell intentionally drove his black 2008 Dodge Avenger onto a sidewalk to bypass barrier posts and targeted vendor booths and pedestrians at the tourist spot, plowing into them at speeds of up to 35 mph.

Killed was Alice Gruppioni, 32, a newlywed from Bologna, Italy, who was on her honeymoon.

Both sides agreed to a stipulation Tuesday detailing the injuries that killed Gruppioni. The coroner's report entered in evidence showed that she died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and multiple skull fractures. It concluded that her death was rapid because the injuries were so severe, and by the time she reached the hospital, she was without vital signs.

Sixteen others were hurt.

Public defender Philip Dube has said Campbell was "profoundly depressed" after the incident and he did not intentionally try to hit anybody. Dube has called it a horrible accident.

The hearing is set to continue Wednesday. A judge will determine afterward whether there is enough evidence for Campbell to stand trial. The second part of the hearing resumed after nearly a month's delay so tourists who saw the events could return to California to testify.

John Drolette, of Fresno, said he was in an upstairs motel room overlooking the boardwalk when he heard a car engine revving, then saw the driver crash into an automatic teller machine and knock over several vendors' tents.

The motorist struck a woman and kept going with her on the car's hood until she finally was flung off, Drolette said.

Mustafa Balci said he and his wife were inside their tent when the car plowed into both of them.

"I thought, 'It's going to stop.' But it didn't," he said.

Balci was struck in both knees and lost sight of his wife and for a moment. Both were treated for their injuries at a hospital.

If convicted, Campbell could face life in prison.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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