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Ellis Law Legal News: Lawyer: Deadly boardwalk crash ‘horrible accident’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A lawyer for a man charged Tuesday with murder and assault for allegedly driving his car through a weekend throng on California’s famed Venice Beach boardwalk and killing an Italian tourist, said it was an accident that has left his client devastated.

“I don’t believe he intentionally tried to hit anybody,” said public defender Philip Dube, who is representing Nathan Louis Campbell, 38.

“He’s profoundly sad, he is profoundly depressed, that he has potentially ended somebody’s life,” Dube said outside the courthouse, after Campbell entered a not guilty plea. “I think this was a horrible accident.”

A felony complaint outlined 34 counts against Campbell, saying he acted willfully. However, it provided no explanation for why he allegedly maneuvered around a vehicle barrier early Saturday evening and plowed into tourists and vendors on the popular walkway along the Pacific.

Italian newlywed Alice Gruppioni, 32, who was on her honeymoon, was killed, and 16 other people were injured.

Campbell was charged with one count of murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and 17 counts of hit-and-run.

If convicted, he could face life in prison. Bail was set at $1.48 million.

Campbell appeared briefly in court, handcuffed in blue prison garb, with his graying hair disheveled. He sat with his hands folded in his lap and only said “I do” and “yes sir” while responding to questions.

Dube told reporters there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved, and he said he was unaware of any history of mental illness with his client.

“He is very fragile. He is very frail right now,” Dube said.

Police said Campbell has been in California only a short time, and it’s not clear what brought him to Venice Beach on the summer weekend. Only a sketchy picture of him has emerged. He had no fixed address and no state driver’s license, and police have found no evidence he was working in the state.

Campbell has ties to Colorado, where he lived as recently as last year. He was evicted from his apartment in Denver for not paying $655 in rent in March 2012, records show.

He was sentenced to five days in jail after pleading guilty to shoplifting at a Denver supermarket in February 2009. Five months later, he was accused of trespassing at an outdoor mall in Denver and sentenced to 10 days in jail, but instead served time in a sheriff’s work program, said Melissa Drazen-Smith, assistant director of prosecutions at the Denver city attorney’s office.

All of his infractions occurred in businesses along a downtown walking mall, an area that is also a magnet for homeless people.

She said Campbell is listed in one record as being a temporary laborer.

Investigators believe Campbell, who was arrested after walking into a police station several hours after Saturday’s rampage, was driving his own car, Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.

“I think we can safely say, when he turned himself in … he implicated himself in the Venice incident,” Smith has said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council called for new street barriers to block unwanted vehicles from getting onto the boardwalk. A motion, approved unanimously, urged police and city officials to immediately erect temporary barriers at the most dangerous intersections along the boardwalk, which draws tens of thousands of visitors on weekends.

The council also asked for a two-week study that will assess where to install permanent posts or other barriers to keep cars away from pedestrians.

When Gruppioni was hit, her husband, Christian Casadei, was at her side. He suffered minor injuries.

In a statement Monday, Casadei called his wife “an immense gift: a gift that no one can ever understand. She gave happiness and joy to anyone who had the luck to know her.”

One person was critically injured and two others were taken to hospitals in serious condition. The 13 others all received less severe injuries.

Police said Campbell initially parked outside a hotel and surveyed the boardwalk, where hundreds of people were sitting at cafes, walking along the seashore or shopping for jewelry, art or other items at vending stands.

Surveillance video showed a driver getting into the Dodge, steering around a vehicle barrier and careening through the crowd.

Witnesses said the car was traveling at least 35 mph. It later turned up on a side street less than 2 miles away.

A makeshift boardwalk memorial for Gruppioni included a note in Italian expressing condolences and a painting that reads, “Venice loves you, Alice.”

Los Angeles Attorney

In our professional opinion there are 2 ways to look at this case. One is from the perspective of criminal defense the other is from a personal injury. For example if the lawyer is right in saying this was an actual accident. They will have to prove that the vehicle which Campbell was driving had a defect in it and that it was the leading cause of the accident. The other is if he’s found to be not responsible due to a car defect the the people who were injured now have a liable suit against the city of Venice. Let’s break this down a little more.

Accidents that are Not Caused by the Drivers Involved

In certain cases, accidents are caused by factors unrelated to the conduct of any particular driver. For example, an automobile accident may occur due to a defect in someone’s automobile. In such a case, an automobile manufacturer or supplier may be responsible for injuries caused by a defect in the automobile under the law of product liability. A product liability suit is a lawsuit brought against the seller of a product for selling a defective product that caused physical injury to a consumer or user. If a manufacturer of a product creates a defective product-either in designing, manufacturing, or labeling the product-the manufacturer is liable for any injuries the product causes, regardless of whether the manufacturer was negligent.

Another example of a situation where a driver may not be at fault for an accident is where a mechanic fails to properly repair a vehicle, and the failure causes an accident. In such a case, the person who improperly repaired the automobile, and his employer, may be liable for the injuries sustained under the theory of negligence.

Other factors, such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to cause an accident as well. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting or other highway defects, including poorly placed trees and utility poles, can also cause serious accidents. In cases such as this, government entities may be potential defendants. Special rules apply to claims and lawsuits brought against governmental bodies, however, and good legal advice is critical to preserving and winning such claims.

If the City of Venice is found liable on what grounds do the injured have?

Some have questioned whether the City of Los Angeles is liable, in part, for this massive tragedy by not having proper street barriers and protective measures in place. Immediately after the accident, the Los Angeles City Council called for new street barriers to block vehicles from getting onto the boardwalk. A motion, approved unanimously, urged police and city officials to immediately erect temporary barriers at the most dangerous intersections along the boardwalk, which draws tens of thousands of visitors on weekends. If the City was to be found at all negligent, the victims could potentially sue the deeper pockets of the City of Los Angeles for financial compensation for injuries suffered.