UPDATE: As a woman lay dying, the bands played on. Antonio Rendon owns Titanic, a clothing store on Ocean Front Walk. Rendon says he was the first to call 911 and among the first citizen responders, assisting victims scattered across the boardwalk in a vehicular rampage still lacking a motive. Police remain mum.
“We were trying to help as much as we could, telling them to stay still, making sure they had vital signs,” Rendon told me. “The driver must have been going 50 miles an hour because I could see dust coming from beneath the car as it sped off,” Rendon said, estimating the speed of the car believed to have been driven by Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, by the speed of LAPD squad cars in pursuit when the boardwalk is virtually free of pedestrians.
But as Alice Gruppioni, 32, lay dying on the iconic walkway, bartenders at restaurants only a few dozen yards kept pouring drinks, their house bands played on. Stunned tourists stopped in their tracks amid the injured, panicked and screaming, but the boardwalk party never lost a beat.
Sunday, as many as 150,000 people walked past the scene of the carnage, many clueless as to what had happened. Some paused to read cards of condolence, and gaze at the marigolds and roses in a sidewalk memorial to Gruppioni. — yet another color in the kaleidoscopic mix of humanity that is Venice Beach.
The Venice Beach Freakshow barker pitched 200 live snakes, 5-legged dog and the smallest man in America. Beyond that, the Hare Krishna Festival of the Chariots extolled the endless circle of life. Onlookers stopped, looked sad, moved on. Such is Venice.
The Candle Cafe will hold a vigil for Alice Gruppioni at 6 p.m. Monday.
UPDATE: First Vendors struck talk of tragedy. A husband and wife who were the first vendors to be hit by a driver who accelerated into a crowd at the Venice Beach boardwalk say they were nearly killed by the car roaring toward them.
Mustafa Balci and his wife Yesim Balci sell glassware, bracelets and wall hangings at the boardwalk. Their Turkish-made glassware They were back at the beach taking stock of their broken wares after being released from Cedars-Sinai with minor injuries. They have no health insurance. Opening their boardwalk stall offered the only hope of recovering losses in broken merchandise and medical costs.
Yesim Balci was flung 8 feet, and much of her body remains bruised. Mustafa Balci was pushed backward, his knees slammed by the car's bumper. “This is intentional,” Yesim said. “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.”
UPDATE: All five victims taken to UCLA Medical Center have been treated and released. Three of the five are female, 2 male, their ages ranging from 19 to 75, according to a statement from the center.
Los Angeles city councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, will call for barriers to block non-emergency vehicles from driving onto Ocean Front Walk at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Four exist at Dudley Avenue, where Campbell entered the boardwalk, “but apparently the assailant sped around them, over the sidewalk and into the crowd,” Bonin said. Tourists frequently drive onto the boardwalk by mistake.
Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, has been arrested for murder for allegedly driving a Dodge Avenger down Ocean Front Walk, plowing into a dozen people and killing an Italian woman on her honeymoon, police said. Campbell’s hometown was not available, but jail records show he was booked for suspicion of murder at 2:43 a.m., and was held today on $1 million bail.
The victim has been identified as 32 year-old Alice Gruppioni of Rastignano, Italy. She’s the daughter of Valerio Gruppioni, an entrepreneur and former president of Bologna Football.
Gruppioni was visiting Venice Beach with her husband Christian Casadei of Cesena, on the couple’s honeymoon. They were married two weeks ago. She died at Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center’s Marina Del Rey campus with her husband, who suffered minor injuries, by her side.
Another victim remained in critical condition, two were in serious condition and eight were being treated for less-serious injuries, LAPD Lt. Andy Nieman said.
The suspect began his deadly path of destruction on Dudley Avenue and sped south near Sunset Avenue, Neiman said, at about 6:01 p.m.
A surveillance camera at the Candle Cafe shows the driver parking on Dudley Avenue, then getting out of his vehicle twice, apparently to scope out the boardwalk. He got back into his car, navigated a narrow passage between one barrier and the Cadillac Hotel, and turned left onto Ocean Front Walk.
Witnesses said the driver of the car — described as a 2008 to 2010 black or dark blue Dodge Avenger — seemed to purposely aim at pedestrians. John Drolette told Fox11 that the driver smashed into two vendor tents on the boardwalk, taking out both, and striking an older woman shopping at one of the tents.
“There was a girl latched onto the hood of his car, just trying to stay alive. He had already hit two people. We just saw people diving out of the way. People were yelling and screaming and crying,” Neqo Habibi told ABC7.
“He gave it gas again, and then he started weaving. He hit about six or seven people until he made a left and took off,” Drolette said.
The man abandoned the car at Ocean Park Boulevard and Beverly Avenue in Santa Monica, about two miles away. According to Neiman, the suspect walked into the Santa Monica police station, where he was questioned and later arrested.
An LAPD bomb-sniffing dog was called to check the abandoned car for explosive devices in what Neiman termed “an abundance of caution based on (the suspect’s) mannerisms.”