Hit-and-run driver accelerated onto LA boardwalk

In this still frame made from security camera footage, pedestrians scatter as a car drives through a packed Saturday afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

In this still frame made from security camera footage, pedestrians scatter as a car drives through a packed Saturday afternoon crowd along the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 seashore or shopping at vendors selling jewelry or art.

Then, according to surveillance video, the man got into a large black car, steered 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 at the height of vacation season.

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.

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.

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

Mustafa Balci, 44, and his wife Yesim Balci, 48, were sitting in lawn chairs at their booth on Saturday, as they had daily for the last three years when they saw a large black sedan roaring directly toward them from a side street.

Three people were knocked to the ground and within seconds the car was at their booth. It swerved left, sideswiping a picnic table holding their wares — the traditional Turkish blue glassware of the eye to ward off the evil eye, and wall hangings of Jesus and Virgin Mary tapestries.

The car hit three customers looking at the items, and slammed into Mustafa Balci’s knees pushing him backward, breaking a table, smashing a mirror and scattering everything. Yesim Balci was flung 8 feet, tumbling backward and landing facedown.

“I couldn’t see her when I woke up, I looked up and was like where is she? I yelled, ‘Are you around? Are you alive?’ She yelled back, ‘I’m alive,’” Mustafa Balci said. “I thought both of us would be dead.”

Balci was helped up by strangers who took him over to his wife. He lay next to her as paramedics responded to the scene. The couple were taken along with three others to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released. Yesim Balci had her ankle taped up, blood seeping through the back, and bruises all over her body; she could no longer raise her left arm.

On Sunday, the boardwalk featured the typical summer crowd, people on roller blades, beach cruisers, performers and regular vendors. The Balcis were also back at their booth to take stock of their losses.

A broken picnic table was behind them, and a box of their damaged wares in front of them. They estimated that 90 percent of their goods were broken, at a loss of $6,000 for handmade goods whose raw materials were shipped from Turkey. They don’t have any health insurance and aren’t sure how they will make up the losses.

“We’re not here to work or sell anything, we’re here for damage control, to take our stuff and go home and rest,” Mustafa Balci said.

The evening melee injured another vendor next to them who did fortune telling, as well as one of the vendor’s customers, Balci said.

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. He carefully maneuvered between a storefront and metal poles that had been erected to prevent anyone from driving onto the boardwalk.

Then he stepped on the accelerator and plunged into the crowd.

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

The driver knocked over two mannequins and an ATM and started hitting people, swerving from side to side and often running straight into victims. Video showed the car struck at least three vendors — a fortune teller, a couple selling jewelry and a woman who does tattooing.

Two women who appeared to be in their 60s were also hit. Many people ran after the car, screaming and cursing as it sped away, Hagan said.

Witnesses said the car was traveling at about 35 to 40 mph along the boardwalk.

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

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