Investigators Detail Moments Leading Up to Deadly Chicano Park Crash

Richard Anthony Sepolio, 25, an active duty service member stationed in Coronado, was behind the wheel in the deadly October 15, 2016, crash that killed four people in San Diego's Chicano Park

The accused DUI driver and U.S. Navy sailor behind the wheel of a truck was driving approximately 81 miles per hour on the Coronado Bridge four seconds before his car flew off the bridge and crashed into a crowded park below. 

California Highway Patrol (CHP) Investigator Snider detailed the moments leading up to the crash on Oct. 15, 2016, when Richard Anthony Sepolio, 25, was behind the wheel of his truck. The vehicle plunged 60 feet off the Coronado Bridge transition ramp, landing on a large crowd below in Chicano Park. 

Four people were killed in the fiery, chaotic crash: Cruz Elias Contreras, 52; AnnaMarie Contreras, 50; Andre Christopher Banks, 49; Francine Denise Jimenez, 46.

A judge is set to decide if the case will move to trial once testimony concludes.

Snider testified that in the second before the crash, data by the air bag system on the truck shows the car collided with a barricade before hitting the last barricade and going airborne. However, the defense questioned the reliability of that narrative. 

The car was going an estimated 63 miles per hour before the crash, Snider testified. 

"As the vehicle impacted, as it transitioned across the roadway from the left barrier to the right barrier, as we can see by the marked tire marks, the vehicle was slipping sideways slightly as it moved to the second contact," Snider explained at the preliminary hearing.

"Because of that slippage, what was recorded on the speedometer was not necessarily the true vehicle speed," he said.

Four seconds before the crash, it was estimated to be going 81 miles per hour. 

The only signs of braking were at one second prior to the event, Snider testified. 

Sepolio, an active duty service member stationed in Coronado, has been jailed since October 2016. In early November 2016, a San Diego judge rejected a request from Sepolio's attorney to release the suspect into the care of the U.S. military, ordering him to stay in jail. That day, the judge set Sepolio's bail at $2 million.

Sepolio was seriously hurt in the crash, suffering injuries to his back, ribs and hands.

Prosecutors said his injuries prevented officials from performing an accurate breathalyzer test and that blood drawn later provided a more accurate measurement. An hour after the initial tests, a blood sample was drawn and Sepolio's BAC was measured at .08. Prosecutors have also said Sepolio was distracted behind the wheel, sending a text message on his cellphone.

Sepolio's defense, San Diego attorney Paul Pfingst, known for his work on high-profile cases, has argued that his client was not drunk and was not texting.

"The breath tests that were taken shortly after the accident show that his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit,” Pfingst said in court last year.

The defense attorney also said Sepolio took his cellphone out after he crashed to call for help, but he was not texting prior to that.

Sepolio pleaded not guilty to multiple charges related to the fatal crash, including four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and counts of driving under the influence causing injury or death.

Pfingst said that prior to this, Sepolio had no criminal record and had been proudly serving his country. The attorney has argued that Sepolio was "forced off the bridge by another vehicle," which ultimately led to the tragic crash.

However, in prior court proceedings, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office maintained there is no evidence the defendant was forced off the bridge.

If convicted on all counts, Sepolio could face a maximum sentence of 23 years and eight months in prison.

That is 16 years for those killed and then an additional seven years for those injured.

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