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Tami Abdollah, Published August 04 2013

Hit-and-run driver turns self in after mowing down crowd

LOS ANGELES – The driver parked outside a hotel and surveyed the leisurely summer scene at the Venice Beach boardwalk: Hundreds of people were sitting at cafes, walking along the shore or shopping at vendors selling jewelry or art.

Then, according to surveillance video, the man got into a large black car, swerved around a vehicle barrier and accelerated mercilessly through the crowd, hitting one person after another as bystanders tried desperately to get out of the way.

Saturday’s hit-and-run killed an Italian woman on her honeymoon and hurt 11 others who only a moment earlier had been enjoying an afternoon near the beach.

A couple of hours later, authorities arrested a man on suspicion of murder after he walked into a police station in neighboring Santa Monica and said he was involved. But authorities said they did not know of any motive.

Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, of Los Angeles, remained jailed Sunday on $1 million bail.

Police declined to discuss a motive but Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said there was no indication that the attack was a terrorist act or that anyone else was involved.

‘People screaming’

By the time it was over, the driver had covered about a quarter of a mile along the boardwalk before fleeing. The entire incident was over in minutes.

Witnesses reported a horrifying aftermath.

People were “… stumbling around, blood dripping down their legs, looking confused not knowing what had happened, people screaming,” said Louisa Hodge, who described “blocks and blocks of people just strewn across the sidewalk.”

The Italian woman was identified as Alice Gruppioni, 32. Her family in Bologna told the Italian news agency LaPresse that she had been on her honeymoon after a July 20 wedding.

Another person was critically injured. Two others were taken to hospitals in serious condition. Eight suffered less serious injuries, police said.

According to security video and witness accounts, the driver parked next to the Cadillac Hotel and twice walked out to the boardwalk before getting into the Dodge Avenger.

“I heard a big ‘boom, boom,’ like the sound of someone going up and down the curb, it was super loud,” said Alex Hagan, who was working the desk at the hotel.

The driver started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors.

It was not immediately clear how fast the car was going.

The driver eventually turned up a side street and headed away from the ocean. The car was later found abandoned less than 2 miles away, police said.

At the scene, detectives searched for evidence across the boardwalk. The 1.5-mile ribbon of asphalt that runs along the sand a few hundred yards from the ocean is home to galleries, restaurants, tattoo shops, skateboard parks and the famous outdoor weight room known as Muscle Beach. It can draw as many as 150,000 people on summer weekends.

Hodge said she and a friend had stopped in a store to buy ice cream and a couple of hats, which may have saved their lives. They stepped out of a store as emergency crews arrived.

Hodge said she saw a man and woman lying next to each other, wearing head braces, barely able to move but grasping hands.