Murder suspect ‘drank after crash’

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A makeshift memorial stands on the Venice Beach boardwalk for Alice Gruppioni, a tourist on her honeymoon from Bologna, Italy, who was killed when a motorist drove a car through the boardwalk in Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles -

A man charged with murder after his car plowed through the Venice Beach boardwalk last summer smelled of alcohol when he surrendered to authorities, a police officer testified on Wednesday at a preliminary hearing.

Soon after the August 3 incident that killed one person and injured 17 others, Nathan Campbell parked his car on a Santa Monica street not far from the carnage. From there he walked to a police station, where he told officers he had drank vodka immediately after the crash.

“You could smell the odour of alcohol coming from his person and his breath,” Los Angeles police Sgt Benjamin Zucker said.

Superior Court Judge Antonio Barretto declined to immediately enter into evidence a blood-alcohol test conducted on Campbell, but the results showed he had double the legal limit of .08 in his system.

Campbell is charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run driving.

After hearing testimony on Wednesday from eight police officers, Barretto recessed the case until January 2. After that, the judge said, he'll decide whether Campbell, 38, should be ordered to stand trial on 37 counts.

Public defender Philip Dube has said the incident was a tragic accident.

Much of Wednesday's testimony described how a typically colourful summer day on the Venice boardwalk, a place filled with peddlers, artists, musicians and tourists from around the world, quickly turned tragic with the sound of an approaching car.

Los Angeles police Detective Robert Riske testified that he interviewed the husband of an Italian woman who was killed by the car when it roared through the crowded area.

“He told me they were newlyweds and were on their honeymoon,” Riske said.

He said the man told him he heard the car coming up behind him and grabbed his wife and tried to run but became separated from her when he fell to the ground.

Minutes later, Riske said the man told him, he saw his wife down the boardwalk, lying gravely injured.

Alice Gruppioni died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and multiple skull fractures, according to a coroner's report entered into evidence. Gruppioni, 32, was from Bologna, Italy.

Sixteen others were injured, including Nancy Martinez, who sat in a wheelchair and wore a back brace on Tuesday as she tearfully recounted the rampage through a Spanish interpreter. She said the car slammed into her back.

Most witnesses said they couldn't see the car's driver, but Kevin Salveson testified Tuesday that it was Campbell.

“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.”

Campbell's attorney noted that his client has no teeth, suggesting it was unlikely he was smiling.

Prosecutors contend that Campbell, a transient from Colorado, intentionally drove onto a sidewalk to bypass barrier posts and targeted vendor booths and pedestrians, plowing into them at speeds of up to 56kph.

Harris testified that Campbell had been fired in June from his job as manager of a sober living residence after he had abused alcohol and drugs.

Dube has said Campbell was “profoundly depressed” after the incident and did not intentionally try to hit anybody. - Sapa-AP

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