Victims who were injured and the father of a woman who was killed when a Colorado man drove his car along the crowded Venice boardwalk will receive a total of $14 million in legal settlements related to three separate lawsuits approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
Nathan Louis Campbell, who is serving a 42-years-to-life state prison term, was found guilty in June 2015 of second-degree murder for the Aug. 3, 2013, death of 32-year-old Alice Gruppioni, along with 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 10 counts of leaving the scene of an accident.
Valerio Gruppioni, father of 32-year-old Alice Gruppioni, who was killed while on her honeymoon, will receive $12 million. Joanna Botton, Nancy R. Martinez and Jose Enrique Gutierrez, who were all injured by Campbell, will receive a total of $2 million between the three.
The lawsuits alleged that the city had failed to erect proper safety barriers between the street and the boardwalk, even though there had been past incidents of cars driving on the boardwalk, and a deadly incident nearby in 2003 in Santa Monica when a car struck and killed 10 people at a farmers market.
A spokesman for Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
According to the lawsuit filed by Martinez and Gutierrez, the two were on the boardwalk near the 100 block of Dudley Avenue when they were struck by the car. The driver was able to get onto the boardwalk by passing through “ample space” between the southernmost traffic bollard and the Cadillac Hotel, the suit states.
The boardwalk at the time was “teeming with thousands of pedestrians,” the suit states.
City officials were aware the boardwalk is visited by “hundreds of thousands, if not millions of visitors each year,” yet there were insufficient bollards or other traffic impediments in place to help prevent such accidents, the suit states.
Los Angeles officials also knew that fewer than three miles away, a car struck and killed 10 people at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market in July 2003, prompting that city to put up metal bollards to minimize the chance of a repeat of the tragedy, the suit states.
During a preliminary hearing in Campbell’s criminal case, Martinez appeared in court in a wheelchair with a brace around her torso. She said she suffered a spinal fracture that allows her to walk only short distances with a cane.
Gutierrez suffered less serious injuries to his back.
During Campbell’s sentencing hearing, Botton said she suffered physical and psychological injuries, and still has nightmares about Campbell behind the wheel of the car.
At Campbell’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila told jurors the defendant had “full knowledge” of how crowded Venice’s Ocean Front Walk was because surveillance footage showed him walking earlier on the popular tourist destination. He also said Campbell had threatened to run over a drug dealer whom he believed had taken a friend’s money and never returned with drugs.
Campbell’s attorney, James P. Cooper III, conceded that his client was driving the 2008 blue Dodge Avenger that barreled down the boardwalk, but claimed Campbell was actually doing everything he could to avoid striking pedestrians.
At his September 2015 sentencing, Campbell said he was “responsible for a terrible incident that has caused lasting physical pain and mental anguish.”
“This was not an intentional act. This was a horrible accident that I am responsible for causing because of a combined set of circumstances, the way that I reacted to them, my own bad judgment, confusion, panic and fear,” he said.
Several others who were injured on the boardwalk said at a hearing shortly before Campbell’s sentencing that they did not understand the reason behind his actions.
“I will forever feel that this person was on a mission to maim and kill,” Judith Fox said.
Fox said she will “always ask `Why?”‘
“Why would somebody rob so many people of so much?” she asked.
The settlements were approved with an 11-0 vote.