Venice Boardwalk victim remembered as driver's murder case progresses

Alice Gruppioni

Courtesy of the Gruppioni family

Cristian Casadei and Alice Gruppioni at their wedding in July 2013. The couple was honeymooning in Venice Beach in August 2013 when a car plowed down the pedestrian boardwalk, killing Gruppioni.

When she's at home in Bologna, Italy, Katia Gruppioni goes running every morning.

"While I run, I think about what happened," Gruppioni said. "It's the only moment during the day in which I just stop and tell myself, 'It's real. It happened. I am never going to see her again.'"

Her niece, Alice Gruppioni, was on her honeymoon in Southern California in August when she was hit and killed by a driver who plowed down Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach.

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The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office said Nathan Campbell, the alleged driver, deliberately hit pedestrians on the boardwalk.

Campbell's attorney, deputy public defender Philip Dube, said the crash was an accident. Campbell has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder and is awaiting trial.

He's is scheduled to stand for a preliminary hearing — in which a judge determines whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial — on Tuesday.

Katia Gruppioni flew to Los Angeles to attend the hearing.

"I was the only one who could stand this type of trip now," Gruppioni said.

She said the victim's parents are fragile, and Cristian Casadei, her widower, is "devastated."

"It's just a small word to describe how he feels," Gruppioni said, seated in a conference room at the office of a Beverly Hills lawyer representing the family.

The couple had been married two weeks and was strolling the Venice boardwalk when the car Campbell was driving jumped the sidewalk, swung around a cement barrier and hit 16 people as the driver swerved down the pedestrian path. Casadei suffered minor injuries, but his new wife died shortly thereafter. 

Casadei struggles

Katia Gruppioni said Casadei is struggling to move on with his life. The couple had planned to build a house near her parents' home. Casadei, an architect, has continued the project. 

"It's doing something they planned together," Gruppioni said. "At the same time, it's something she will never see. He knows that."

Gruppioni said her family now wants justice for her niece's death, though they're not entirely sure what that means. They want Campbell prosecuted, and their attorney is looking into safety issues on Ocean Front Walk.

Venice's City Councilman, Mike Bonin, has also pushed for a safety review of the boardwalk. Until recently, the Los Angeles Police Department estimated that four to five motorists accidentally entered the pedestrian area each day.

After the deadly crash in August,  the city put up temporary barriers and new signage, which seems to have abated the problem, according to LAPD. 

The local neighborhood council is developing recommendations about whether to put up permanent barriers, more lighting and a public address system — based, in part, on comments from local residents.

While it's unlikely any of those changes would have saved Alice Gruppioni — the car that killed her entered the boardwalk at one of the few inlets that already has a barrier — her death inspired an examination of safety issues at one of L.A.'s most popular tourist attractions.

Katia Gruppioni said her niece was simultaneously the toughest and sweetest woman she knew. The 32-year-old was newly married and poised to inherit a powerful family business. After a lot of hard work, she had everything in place for her future.

"She had a lot to do," Gruppioni says. "She had a brilliant life ahead, but she'll never have any life at all."

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