LOS ANGELES (AP) — The driver of a car that plowed through crowds on the Venice Beach boardwalk must stand trial on charges of murder in the death of a newlywed woman and assault with a deadly weapon involving more than a dozen other tourists and vendors who were injured, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Nathan Campbell, 38, was bound over for trial after a preliminary hearing of the case before Superior Court Judge Antonio Barretto. Campbell also will face 10 counts of leaving the scene.
Campbell, a transient with a history of petty-crime convictions, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Phillip Dube, has said there was no intent to kill and the event was an accident.
Newlywed Alice Gruppioni, 32, of Bologna, Italy, was on her honeymoon when she was killed in the Aug. 3 incident at the famous Southern California tourist attraction.
Barretto dismissed several counts for technical reasons on a motion by Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila. He also dismissed one count in the case of a woman who was hit but not injured.
Outside court, Dube said his defense would be based on the fact that the used car Campbell was driving had been recalled before he bought it in Colorado and the problem was not fixed.
He said it had a faulty shift lever, which Campbell had to struggle with to get the car to move. When Campbell gunned the gas pedal after several attempts, the car lurched forward through the barriers to the boardwalk, Dube said.
The car hit Gruppioni first.
"He freaked out. She was on the hood of the car," Dube said. "He never intended to hurt anybody or kill anybody. He's not homicidal. He has no violence in his history. It's just a very sad hard luck story."
After Gruppioni was hit, Campbell panicked and was just trying to get off the boardwalk when he hit 17 other people, Dube said.
Dube said the issue for a jury to decide at Campbell's trial will be "whether or not he had a criminal mind, a criminal intent, rather than acting in a panic mode."
Campbell could face a life sentence if convicted of a murder charge. Prosecutors will meet to determine whether the charge will be first-degree murder, which would mean the act was premeditated, or something lesser.
Some 30 witnesses, including tourists from across the country and the world, flew to Los Angeles to testify at the preliminary hearing.
One woman appeared in a wheelchair. Others spoke of their terror when the car came barreling down the boardwalk in the early evening when hundreds of people jammed the strip.
Witnesses said the driver maneuvered around barriers and intentionally aimed at tourists and vendors.
The judge set Campbell's arraignment for Jan. 22 and said the case would then be assigned to a judge for trial.