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Venice boardwalk: Witnesses describe chaotic scene of hit-and-run

August 04, 2013|By Samantha Schaefer, Abby Sewell and Andrew Blankstein
  • Lisa Green and Toneey Acevedo stop to place remembrances at a makeshift memorial on the Venice boardwalk.
Lisa Green and Toneey Acevedo stop to place remembrances at a makeshift… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

John Drolette said he and his 6-year-old niece were standing on the second-story balcony of the Cadillac Hotel in Venice on Saturday when he saw a car tear around the corner and plow into a crowd of people on the famed boardwalk.

"I've never seen anything like it,” said Drolette, 57.  "I heard his engine go 'wooo wooo' and that's when my stomach went… There were thousands of people in the promenade. He was zigzagging, he did it on purpose."

The car hit a woman shopping at a tent, and carried her on the hood for several yards until she rolled off, Drolette said. The vehicle then ran over the woman, speeding up and zigzagging left into a small group, hitting another woman, he said.

The car appeared to be dragging an ATM machine, which fell off the car and broke apart after the first impact, said Drolette and his wife, Natalia.

PHOTOS: Venice boardwalk crash

The couple called 911 from the room, but couldn't get through, Natalia said. When emergency responders arrived, they brought out three tarps to lay out the injured, she said. The injured were strewn about the boardwalk, while large crowds of people looked on behind police lines.

Swerving tire tracks were still visible along the boardwalk Sunday morning.

On Sunday, Los Angeles police announced the arrest of Nathan Campbell, 38, on suspicion of murder in connection with the crash, which killed one and injured 11 others. Campbell, who turned himself into police after the  crash Saturday night, is being held on $1-million bail.

Police investigators are still trying to determine a motive behind the deadly crash. Witnesses told police that it looked like the driver was deliberately trying to hit people.

The deceased victim was identified Sunday morning as Alice Gruppioni, 32, of Italy, police and fire officials said.

Several videos have emerged showing the crash.

One of the videos showed a dark black sedan plowing into people on the boardwalk. Another video captured the chaotic scene after the crash.

"The vehicle appeared to be moving purposefully down the boardwalk, according to witnesses," said Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Daniel Regidor, 50, who was running nearby when the crash occurred, described the chaotic scene.

"People screaming, running. I was half a mile from the scene, but you could see just this mass of people trying to get out of the way.... It was horrible,” he said. "I saw somebody flying up in the air. When I came upon the scene, there were a bunch of people on the ground, bloodied."

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samantha.schaefer@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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