Vendors, witnesses recall Venice Beach hit-and-run horror

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by TAMI ABDOLLAH

Associated Press

Posted on August 4, 2013 at 4:34 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 5 at 12:41 PM

LOS ANGELES—The boardwalk at Venice Beach is usually a bustling destination for tourists and locals who come to shop and eat, or just people-watch. It was crowded Saturday evening when witnesses say the unthinkable occurred: A driver slammed into people, killing one woman and injuring 11 others.

A surveillance camera captured the moment a driver appeared to deliberate mowed down pedestrians. People rushed to help the injured amid the ensuing chaos.

One man told CBS Station KCBS, “The guy just started barreling down, people started screaming, and we just parted like the Red Sea.”

One woman described the scene as “Horrific. There were people flying everywhere. It looked like something out of a movie.”

Just moments before the rampage began, surveillance video captured the suspect, 38-year-old Nathan Campbell, stopping and surveying the boardwalk, before climbing back into his car. He steered around a vehicle barrier and accelerated through the crowd.

The driver knocked over two mannequins and an ATM and started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors — a fortune teller, a couple selling jewelry and a woman who does tattooing.

Witnesses said the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.

Venice boardwalk rampage driver was “out for blood,” witness says

John Drolette was on vacation; he watched in horror as the driver plowed through people for more than 100 yards.

“He took out the two people who work in the tent, and he hit the woman that was shopping at the tent and he knocked her up on the hood,” he told CBS News. “And he went over and across the promenade and he hit two more venders, and then he swerved his car all the way down and he kept hitting people all the way down.”

Drolette said the driver appeared to aim for people. “I believe he was, from what I saw,” he said. “I cannot speak to what was his frame of mind, but I’m telling you what I saw. People moved out of the way, and he drove to hit ‘em.”

Saturday’s hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others who only a moment earlier had been enjoying a late afternoon near the beach at the height of vacation season.

The injured ranged in age from 19 to 75, reports CBS Station KCBS.

The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean. The car was later found abandoned less than two miles away, police said.

Campbell later walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica and said he was involved. He remained jailed Sunday on $1 million bail.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Campbell may be a transient, originally from Colorado, who was living in his car.

Police declined to discuss a motive, but Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there was no indication that the attack was a terrorist act or that anyone else was involved.

Louisa Hodge described to The Associated Press a scene in which “blocks and blocks of people [were] just strewn across the sidewalk.”

People were “stumbling around, blood dripping down their legs, looking confused not knowing what had happened, people screaming,” Hodge said.

One minute, Mustafa Balci was sitting in a lawn chair next to his wife at their booth on the Venice Beach boardwalk, enjoying the leisurely summer scene.

The next minute, the couple was lying on the ground along with the other injured after a man accelerated his large black car through a crowd, hitting one person after another as people tried desperately to get out of the way.

Balci’s booth was struck within seconds of the start of the rampage. The car swerved left, sideswiping a picnic table holding the couple’s wares — the traditional Turkish blue glassware of the eye to ward off the evil eye, and wall hangings of Jesus and Virgin Mary tapestries.

The car hit three customers looking at the items, and slammed into Balci’s knees pushing him backward, breaking a table, smashing a mirror and scattering everything. His wife, Yesim Balci, was flung eight feet, tumbling backward and landing facedown.

By the time it was over, the driver had covered about a quarter of a mile along the boardwalk before speeding away. The entire incident was over in minutes.

“I couldn’t see her when I woke up, I looked up and was like where is she? I yelled, ‘Are you around? Are you alive?’ She yelled back, ‘I’m alive,’ “ Mustafa Balci said. “I thought both of us would be dead.”

Balci, 44, was helped up by strangers who took him over to his wife. The couple were taken along with three others to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released.

Yesim Balci, 48, had her ankle taped up, blood seeping through the back, and bruises all over her body. On Sunday, she couldn’t raise her left arm.

They estimated that 90 percent of their goods were broken, at a loss of $6,000 for handmade goods whose raw materials were shipped from Turkey. They don’t have any health insurance and aren’t sure how they will make up the losses.

The woman killed by the driver was identified as Alice Gruppioni, 32, of Italy. Her family in Bologna told the Italian news agency LaPresse that she had been on her honeymoon after a July 20 wedding.

Gruppioni worked as a manager for the family business Sira group, which makes radiators. Her father, Valerio Gruppioni, runs the company and was formerly president of the Bologna soccer team, according to LaPresse.

Gruppioni’s family arrived in Los Angeles Sunday and are expected to make a statement sometime today, KCBS reports.

Another person was critically injured. Two others were taken to hospitals in serious condition. Eight suffered less serious injuries, police said.

The Candle Cafe on Ocean Front Walk will hold a fundraiser for the victimsthroughout the day Monday, with the vigil scheduled for evening.

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