Venice Boardwalk: Residents hold sunset vigil; witnesses describe scene

65790 full

Social media reaction

A vigil took place Monday evening in Venice to honor the victims — including a young woman killed while visiting from Italy on her honeymoon — who were mowed down this weekend when a man drove his car into a crowd on the popular boardwalk.

The vigil at Dudley Avenue and Ocean Front Walk was near the site of Saturday’s mass hit-and-run. Organizers said it would include a 30-second moment of silence.

Neighborhood business Candle Café has organized a fundraiser and will be collecting donations for those affected all week.

RELATED: Venice Boardwalk: 16 confirmed hit, driver possibly jailed in Colorado (updated)

Saturday's hit-and-run incident killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 15 others who only a moment earlier had been enjoying a late afternoon near the beach at the height of vacation season.

Of the 15 people who were injured, 11 were taken to local hospitals for treatment. All of those people have since been released, police told KPCC.

Alice Gruppioni, 32, was the sole fatality reported in the incident. Gruppioni was visiting Venice on her honeymoon after being married about two weeks ago on July 20. Her husband, Christian, survived and was among the injured.

Alice Gruppioni died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck after she was hit by the car, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. She was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour after she was hit, and her death was ruled a homicide.

NBC4 reported that Gruppioni's family arrived in Southern California Sunday night.

NBC4 contacted Gruppioni's aunt:

"She was robbed of her life while living her dream visit to California with her husband," Katia Gruppioni, her aunt, told NBC4 in a text message. "This was a tremendous injustice. Alice was a remarkable young lady making her personal dreams come true."

Gruppioni is the daughter of Valerio Gruppioni, a businessman and former president of the Bologna soccer team. He is the president of Sira Group, a producer of heating radiators.

Alice Gruppioni worked as a manager for the Sira group. 

A chaotic scene

Witnesses described a chaotic scene to KPCC. One minute, Mustafa Balci was sitting in a lawn chair next to his wife at their booth on the Venice Beach boardwalk, enjoying the leisurely summer scene.

The next minute, the couple was lying on the ground, along with another injured after a driver accelerated his large black car through a crowd, hitting one person after another as people tried desperately to get out of the way.

Balci's booth was struck within seconds of the start of the rampage. The car swerved left, sideswiping a picnic table holding the couple's wares — the traditional Turkish blue glassware of the eye to ward off the evil eye — and wall hangings of Jesus and Virgin Mary tapestries.

The car hit three customers looking at the items and slammed into Balci's knees, pushing him backward, and breaking a table, smashing a mirror and scattering everything. Balci's wife, Yesim Balci, was flung 8 feet, tumbling backward and landing facedown.

By the time it was over, the driver had covered about a quarter of a mile along the boardwalk before speeding away. The entire incident was over in minutes.

"I couldn't see her when I woke up," Mustafa Balci said. "I looked up and was like, 'Where is she?' I yelled, 'Are you around? Are you alive?' She yelled back, 'I'm alive.' I thought both of us would be dead."

Balci, 44, was helped up by strangers who took him over to his wife. The couple were taken along with three others to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released.

Yesim Balci, 48, had her ankle taped up, blood seeping through the back, and bruises all over her body. On Sunday, she couldn't raise her left arm.

Nathan Louis Campbell arrested

Authorities arrested a man on suspicion of murder several hours after the hit-and-run. Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, of Los Angeles walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica and said he was involved. He remained jailed Sunday on $1 million bail.

Police declined to discuss a motive, but Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there was no indication that the attack was a terrorist act or that anyone else was involved.

The driver first parked outside a hotel and surveyed the boardwalk: Hundreds of people were sitting at cafes, walking along the seashore or shopping at vendors selling jewelry or art.

Then, according to surveillance video, the man got into a large black car, steered around a vehicle barrier and drove through the crowd.

The driver knocked over two mannequins and an ATM and started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors: a fortune teller, a couple selling jewelry and a woman who does tattooing.

Witnesses said the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.

The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean. The car was later found abandoned less than two miles away, police said.

'Blocks of people'

People were "stumbling around, blood dripping down their legs, looking confused not knowing what had happened, people screaming," said Louisa Hodge, who described "blocks and blocks of people just strewn across the sidewalk."

On Sunday, the boardwalk featured the typical summer crowd, people on roller blades, beach cruisers, performers and regular vendors. The Balcis were also back at their booth to take stock of their losses.

A broken picnic table was behind them, and a box of their damaged wares in front of them.

They estimated that 90 percent of their goods were broken, at a loss of $6,000 for handmade goods whose raw materials were shipped from Turkey. They don't have any health insurance and aren't sure how they will make up the losses.

"We're not here to work or sell anything, we're here for damage control, to take our stuff and go home and rest," Mustafa Balci said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated a vigil would be held at 5 p.m. It is scheduled for 6 p.m. The story has been updated accordingly. KPCC regrets the error.

With contributions by AP

blog comments powered by Disqus