Crime & Justice

Witness in Venice beach boardwalk hit-and-run case: 'He didn't stop'

Police and fire officials respond at the scene where a car drove through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013.
Police and fire officials respond at the scene where a car drove through a packed afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013.
Alex Thompson/AP

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Nathan Campbell — the man accused of driving onto the Venice Beach boardwalk and killing a honeymooning Italian woman and injuring over a dozen more – appeared in court Tuesday as his preliminary hearing resumed after a month-long break.

Four witnesses testified before the lunch recess Tuesday morning, including a vendor who said he was sitting at his booth when a car smashed into him and his wife. 

At the end of the hearing, a judge is expected to rule if the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for Nathan Campbell to be tried on charges of murder, assault and hit-and-run.

Mustafa Balci said the car hit four of five people before it reached him on Aug. 3, 2013. The front right bumper hit the vendor in his knees, sending him to the pavement.

"When I opened my eyes, I couldn't see my wife," Balci testified.

He called to her, and she responded.

"She was eight or ten feet behind me, so she flew," Balci said. Both were treated at a hospital and released early the following morning.

John Drolette, who was staying at the Cadillac Hotel, testified he saw the car swerve down the boardwalk as he stood on the hotel's second floor fire escape, facing the ocean. 

Drolette said he saw the car hit an ATM – which he said "just shattered" – and then swerve towards Balci's stand. He said he saw the vendors knocked toward the sand and then the car hit a woman, who landed on the car's hood and stayed there.

"He didn't stop," Drolette said.

The woman remained on the hood for about 25 or 30 yards down the boardwalk. Then, "her body rolled off the vehicle," Drolette said.

The witness said that people naturally parted to either side of the boardwalk when they noticed the car.

"Instead of going straight, the vehicle went left, right, left, right, hitting people who had moved out of the way," Drolette testified.

Campbell's attorney, Philip Dube, raised questions as to whether Campbell might have been looking for an exit.

Questioning Balci, the defense lawyer asked the vendor whether there's a place for a car to exit the boardwalk. Balci, ​who's worked at the beach front walkway for 4 or 5 years, said the closest exit towards the street is about 2 blocks south of where the car allegedly entered. 

Dube also questioned why, if as prosecutors allege, his client was attempting to hit people with his car, more people were not injured.

The hearing resumes Tuesday afternoon. Among the expected witnesses is Nancy Martinez, who appeared briefly before the noon recess. The 28-year-old was walking with her boyfriend on the boardwalk the day of the incident. In court, she appeared in a wheelchair.

PREVIOUSLY: Man charged in Venice Beach boardwalk auto rampage back in court

A man charged in a deadly auto rampage on the Venice Beach boardwalk will be back in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday as a judge decides whether he'll stand trial for murder, assault and hit-and-run.

The preliminary hearing for Nathan Campbell resumes after a delay of nearly a month so tourists who witnessed the Aug. 3 rampage could be returned to Southern California to testify.

The 38-year-old Campbell, a transient from Colorado with a history of petty crime convictions, has pleaded not guilty and his attorney has called it "a horrible accident."

Alice Gruppioni, 32, a newlywed from Bologna, Italy, died on her honeymoon and 16 other people were injured when the black 2008 Dodge Avenger plowed through the Sunday evening crowd.

In the first part of the hearing last month, seven witnesses who were flown in from Indiana, Pennsylvania, England and France described their efforts to protect children and themselves.

They testified that the driver maneuvered around barriers and seemingly aimed at tourists and vendors intentionally as he sped down the famous Southern California tourist spot.

A police officer testified that he walked into a police station in the neighboring city of Santa Monica only two hours after the crash and said he was the one they were looking for and hit those people.

Public defender Philip Dube said Campbell was "profoundly depressed" after the incident and he did not intentionally try to hit anybody.

If convicted, Campbell could face life in prison.