Witnesses describe chaos as driver swerved down Venice boardwalk

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In a preliminary hearing Tuesday, witnesses described a car plowing down the Venice boardwalk, hitting people and stands in its path.

Katriya Marshall, who’d spent the day of Aug. 3, 2013 riding bikes up the beach path with her partner, Aaron Mason, was walking Ocean Front Drive back to her hotel when she heard the “sound of mayhem, people screaming.”

Looking up, Marshall testified, she saw a dark car plow through a mannequin on the beachside of the boardwalk, before turning south, towards her. Marshall, seated in a witness box at the Airport Branch of L.A.’s Superior Court, was one of several tourists who testified they were enjoying a nice summer day at the Venice Boardwalk when things turned chaotic.

Prosecutors say Nathan Campbell deliberately targeted Marshall — who suffered bruises and cuts on her legs when the car hit her — and over a dozen others when he allegedly jumped a curb and started swerving down the pedestrian-heavy path.

Marshall said she initially thought the driver was out of control or, for a split second, that maybe someone was filming a movie.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Marshall said. “I said to my partner, ‘we need to run.’”

Marshall said she never saw the driver’s face, just a “shadow” inside the car. Other witnesses, however, claim they made out the man’s expression as he allegedly swerved down the boardwalk.

“His facial expression was focused — it wasn’t like, ‘Oh God, what just happened,’” said Landen Blackburn, a tourist from Indiana, who was with his family at the Candle Café and Grill. He testified he saw a man climb into a dark car before swerving past barriers and turning onto the boardwalk.

“It was focused, straight ahead,” echoed a later witness, Mike Giantomaso of Philadelphia, who was vacationing with his family and testified he made out Campbell’s profile as he drove by. “He looked calm,” Giantomaso said.

Other witnesses referred to the car’s movements as “serpentine” and “deliberate.”

However, Campbell’s attorney Philip Dube questioned witnesses on whether the car might have been out of the driver’s control as it made its way south along the pedestrian path.

Dube, who did not comment after the hearing concluded for the day, has said in the past that Campbell feels terrible about the incident, which he described as accidental. More of the defense’s side of the story is expected as the hearing continues Wednesday. When it concludes — likely not for some time — a judge will determine if there's enough evidence for Campbell to stand trial for murder and other charges.

The incident claimed one life: that of Alice Gruppioni, 32, who was honeymooning in Los Angeles with her husband of two weeks, Cristian Casadei.

On the witness stand, Marshall described being helped to her feet after being knocked to the ground by the car, then walking down the boardwalk, towards where observers said “a girl” had been hit.

Marshall testified she saw a woman lying face down on the path, unmoving, her head leaking blood.

Gruppioni’s aunt Katia Gruppioni, who flew in from Italy for the hearing, said afterwards it was difficult to sit through the testimony.

“It’s a burden that we all have,” Gruppioni said. “Sometimes it’s less difficult; today it is very, very difficult.”

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