A Colorado man who drove his car along the crowded Venice boardwalk, killing an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hitting 17 others just over two years ago, was sentenced Friday to 42 years to life in prison.Nathan Louis Campbell, 40, was convicted June 5 of second-degree 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.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathryn Solorzano rejected a defense motion for a new trial last month.
During Campbell’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila told jurors the defendant had “full knowledge” of how crowded Venice’s Ocean Front Walk was because surveillance footage showed him walking earlier on the popular tourist destination, and that Campbell had threatened to run over a drug dealer whom he believed had taken a friend’s money and never returned with drugs.
“Defendant Campbell hit 18 pedestrians with his car, killing a young woman. If not for sheer luck, more people could have been killed. Defendant created chaos and a scenario of great violence which to this date has not only traumatized the victims, but also witnesses who observed from a distance,” the prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memorandum, adding that Campbell “personally used a 3,000-pound vehicle as a deadly weapon.”
Campbell’s attorney, James P. Cooper III, conceded during the trial that his client was driving the 2008 blue Dodge Avenger that barreled down the boardwalk, but said Campbell was actually doing everything he could to avoid striking pedestrians.
During the sentencing hearing, Campbell read from a prepared 2 1/2-page handwritten statement, saying he was “responsible for a terrible incident that has caused lasting physical pain and mental anguish for several people.”
“This was not an intentional act. This was a horrible accident that I am responsible for causing because of a combined set of circumstances, the way that I reacted to them, my own bad judgment, confusion, panic and fear,” Campbell wrote. “This incident has been a lasting nightmare for everyone involved … a nightmare that I am responsible for causing.”
“Every minute of every day I wish that the horrible things that happened on August 3rd, 2013, had not … There are no words that could ever accurately express how truly sorry I am for what happened that day,” Campbell wrote, adding that he hoped that Gruppioni’s husband, family and friends will find “some small measure of peace in their lives.”
Campbell also said he wished that “I had not used used such bad judgment as to drive when I was so tired and exhausted that I could barely stay awake. I wish that I had not been so careless and paid attention as to when I shifted. I wish that I had hit the poles at the end of Dudley instead of trying to give myself a few more feet to stop so that I would not damage my car. More than anything, I wish that I could have stopped instead of panicking, causing pain to so many people or just parked somewhere else so that this event had never happened.”
The judge, however, took issue with Campbell’s characterization of his actions as an “accident.”
“This whole scenario from my perspective is not an accident,” Solorzano said. “Everything you did on that date is criminal behavior. Crimes took place on the boardwalk.”
Solorzano noted that some of the victims had extreme injuries — some partially disabled, and some emotionally disabled.
“All you had to do was stop, because there was nothing wrong with the brakes,” she told Campbell. “It was entirely avoidable.”
The judge also said the crime has cast a pall over the Venice tourist attraction, changing the experience of visitors who know what happened there.
Avila also rejected Campbell’s claims that the drive on the boardwalk was accidental.
“To this day he claims that it’s an accident,” the prosecutor said outside court. “The jury found that this was not an accident, that this was an intentional act, that he acted with a conscious disregard for human life when he drove that vehicle onto Venice Beach boardwalk.
“He could have stopped at any point. Instead, he pressed on the gas, continued to run over people and he injured them severely.”
During the sentencing hearing, Avila played a roughly 16-minute video featuring Gruppioni’s aunt, Katia, and showing scenes of the victim’s family. Alice Gruppioni had been married for about two weeks.
Avila also read statements from a French couple who were on the boardwalk that day.
“We ran to save our lives … but unfortunately I was hit,” Joanna Botton said in the statement. “I don’t even know how I managed to survive the hit.”
Botton said she suffered physical and psychological injuries, and still has nightmares about Campbell behind the wheel of the car.
In court last month, several people who were injured on the boardwalk said they still don’t understand why Campbell did what he did.
“I will forever feel that this person was on a mission to maim and kill,” Judith Fox said.
Fox said she will “always ask ‘Why?”‘
“Why would somebody rob so many people of so much?” she asked.
Nancy Martinez, who walked into court with a cane, said her “life changed completely on that date of the accident because of this guy.”
“It’s been two years now, but I’m still in pain with the trauma and fear of going out,” she said.
— City News Service
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