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Venice boardwalk: Victim describes hit-and-run crash

August 04, 2013|By Samantha Schaefer
  • Mustafa Balci and his wife, Yesim, were injured in hit-and-run crash Saturday on the Venice boardwalk.
Mustafa Balci and his wife, Yesim, were injured in hit-and-run crash Saturday… (Samantha Schaefer/Los…)

Mustafa Balci and his wife, Yesim, were among 11 people injured in Saturday’s deadly hit-and-run crash on the Venice boardwalk.

The couple returned to the boardwalk Sunday after being released from the hospital, having suffered mostly scrapes and bruises. They were among 11 people injured when a man drove his car into a crowd, zigzagging into vendors and pedestrians, killing one. 

Balci said the blue Dodge Avenger plowed into the tent where he and his wife sell handmade pendants.

"If I was sitting a few inches to the left or to the right,  I would have died. It was basically fast like a train coming inside my booth," he said, adding that the evil eye pendants he sells are what saved him. 

PHOTOS: Venice boardwalk crash

When the car first came around a barrier on Dudley Avenue, Balci said he thought the driver had made a mistake and would stop and turn around as most do.

But the car kept gaining speed, he said.  It hit a metal trash can and destroyed the table on the left side of the booth. Balci was knocked to the ground when the vehicle hit his knees, and his wife flipped and flew into the grass behind them.

He yelled for her and tried to get up, but others in the area wouldn’t let him stand, he said. She responded, telling him that she was OK. When Balci was able to stand, he checked on his wife then sat back down when he felt pain in his knees.

"This is intentional,” he said of the driver’s actions. “This is on purpose. This is a terrorist attack on people. If it was his brakes, he could have stopped here and that Italian lady would still be alive."

The woman who was killed was identified Sunday morning as Alice Gruppioni, 32, of Bologna, Italy, who was on her honeymoon, police and fire officials said. He husband, Christian Casadei, of Cesena, Italy, was hospitalized with minor injuries.

Also Sunday, police announced the arrest of Nathan Campbell, 38, who was booked on suspicion of murder in connection with the Venice crash. Campbell, who turned himself into police after the  crash Saturday night, is being held on $1-million bail.

Balci said his wife is experiencing pain on her right side, left arm, neck, hip, lower back. He said he plans to return to the doctor for X-rays on his knees.

Balci, who has been a vendor on the boardwalk for six years, said he wasn't worried about safety before, but is concerned now.

Police should focus less on ticketing vendors and more on the safety of visitors, he said. Drug users and the homeless also cause problems in the area, he said, adding that Venice should be a paradise.

For now, the couple will rebuild the business from scratch, he said --about 90% of their merchandise was broken. He hopes to pursue some kind of legal action, and they're exploring their options, he said.

Throughout the afternoon customers and locals came by to say hello and ask how they're doing.

"I didn’t know we had that much friends," he said.


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