LOS ANGELES – The horror still haunts them today. A revving engine and the sight of a car bearing down. There was little time to get to safety and almost nowhere to run among the throngs on the Venice Beach Boardwalk that summer afternoon.
“I ran to save my life,” Joanna Botton wrote in a letter to the court from her home in France. “I took a deep breath, I closed my eyes and I knew I was going to die.”
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In an off-road rampage that lasted little more than 30 seconds, Nathan Campbell altered many lives that day, killing an Italian honeymooner and injuring Botton and 16 others.
Campbell was sentenced Friday to 42 years to life in prison after a judge said his apology rang hollow and failed to take responsibility for his crimes.
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The 40-year-old drifter from Colorado was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of newlywed Alice Gruppioni, 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 10 counts of leaving an accident scene.
Campbell acknowledged the nightmare he unleashed on so many as he read clearly and without emotion from a handwritten statement.
He said no words would ever express his sorrow for the terrible “accident.” While acknowledging that he had taken a life and caused lasting emotional and physical trauma, Campbell said it was unintentional and that he used bad judgment.
“Every minute of every day I wish that the horrible things that happened on Aug. 3, 2013, had not,” he wrote on yellow-lined legal paper. “I wish I could have stopped instead of panicking, causing pain to so many people.”
Judge Kathryn Solorzano said the terror he inflicted was no accident.
“Everything you did on that date is criminal behaviour,” she said. “You had this deadly weapon that you were manipulating. All you had to do was stop.”
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Campbell was gunning for a drug dealer who ripped him off when he steered his dark blue Dodge Avenger around poles onto the pedestrian-only walkway and accelerated through one of Los Angeles’ top tourist attractions, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila said in his sentencing memo.
Witnesses said Campbell was smiling and that he swerved to strike people.
An ATM machine flew through the air and struck a woman. Merchandise from peddlers was scattered. People screamed in terror and cried in pain.
No one reported hearing a horn or any warning from the driver.
Campbell testified at trial that he meant to shift the car into reverse and panicked when it went forward. Defence lawyer James Cooper III said Campbell had been drinking earlier in the day and that he tried to avoid pedestrians.
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Cooper sought a shorter sentence that wouldn’t have tallied the deadly weapon convictions consecutively. He said Campbell had surrendered to police shortly after the incident and had owned up to the damage he caused.
“This is not a movie. We can’t have Super Man turn back the earth,” Cooper said. “He can’t do that.”
In a statement read by Avila, Botton described ongoing pain from injuries and the emotional toll the incident has taken. She is still disturbed at her initial thought that her fiance, John Israel, might be dead.
After discovering he was alive, they soon witnessed what that kind of loss was like as they came upon Gruppioni covered in blood and her husband of two weeks, Christian Cassadei, screaming.
“I’ll never forget the sound of him crying,” she wrote.
©2015The Associated Press