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September 15, 2014

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Colo. man charged in fatal Venice boardwalk crash

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Tami Abdollah / AP

A makeshift memorial along the Venice, Calif., beach boardwalk is shown Sunday Aug. 4, 2013, near where a Saturday incident involving a driver who accelerated through a crowd of beachgoers, hitting one person after another as bystanders tried desperately to get out of the way. The hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others.

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 | 3:26 p.m.

This undated booking photo released by the Bay County Sheriff's Office showing Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, from a 2008 arrest in Panama City, Fla.

This undated booking photo released by the Bay County Sheriff's Office showing Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, from a 2008 arrest in Panama City, Fla.

Car Into Beachgoers

Mustafa, left, and his wife, Yesim Balci pose at their stand along the Venice, Calif., beach boardwalk Sunday Aug. 4, 2013 near where a Saturday incident involving a driver who accelerated through a crowd of beachgoers, hitting one person after another as bystanders tried desperately to get out of the way. The hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others. Yesim shows her injured right leg where she was struck by the driver. Theirs was the first stand hit. Launch slideshow »

A transient from Colorado was charged Tuesday with murder and assault for allegedly driving his Dodge Avenger down Los Angeles' crowded Venice Beach boardwalk, killing an Italian tourist and injuring 16 other people.

A felony complaint outlined 34 counts against Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, and says he acted willfully. However, it provides no clues about why he allegedly maneuvered around a vehicle barrier early Saturday evening and plowed into tourists and vendors along the popular walkway along the Pacific.

Killed was 32-year-old Alice Gruppioni, who was on her honeymoon.

Campbell was scheduled to be arraigned later Tuesday. He is 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.

Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila said in a statement that he will ask bail to be set at $1.48 million.

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.

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.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, said nearly 30 streets run into the boardwalk and it's common to have confused drivers accidentally crossing onto it. He said the rampage highlighted a "huge risk" for pedestrians.

"It is clear significant safeguards need to be taken," the motion said.

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."

Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda in Denver, Colleen Barry in Milan, and Raquel Maria Dillon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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