SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A preliminary hearing is underway for a Navy man who was allegedly drunk when his truck flew off a transition ramp to the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge and crashed into a crowd 60 feet below in Chicano Park, killing four people.
Richard Sepolio, 25, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI in connection with the 3:30 p.m. crash last Oct. 15 that killed Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona, and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jimenez, 46. Eight other people were injured.
Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney said Sepolio drank wine and a couple of cocktails with a friend before deciding to drive home, despite warnings from the friend. His blood-alcohol level was estimated to be between .08 and .09 percent at the time of driving, according to prosecutors.
According to Sepolio, another driver wouldn't let him move over, so he gunned his engine and was going 81 mph in a 45 mph zone when he hit the left guardrail and spun off the freeway and landed in Chicano Park, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said his client was not under the influence and was trying to pass a car whose driver was attempting to cut him off when he was forced over a concrete wall. He said Sepolio used the Uber ride-hailing service prior to drinking and after drinking until he was aware his blood-alcohol level had dropped and it was safe for him to drive back to base in Coronado.
The attorney said authorities used a breathalyzer device about an hour after the crash to measure Sepolio's blood-alcohol level and it came out to a .05 and .06 percent. An hour after that, Sepolio's blood was drawn and it was measured at .08 percent, Pfingst said.
Following the preliminary hearing, a judge will decide whether enough evidence was presented for Sepolio to stand trial. The defendant faces nearly 24 years in prison if convicted.
In the aftermath of the deadly crash, Sen. Ben Hueso called for safety improvements and vowed to make Coronado Bridge improvements a top priority.
Hueso said the bridge had become synonymous with the loss of life.
"We're wondering if our community is safe," Hueso said.
Less than a week after the deadly Chicano Park crash, another driver slammed his truck into the center divider on the Coronado Bridge. Crews had to cut a mattress and box spring off the top of the truck to reach the trapped driver.
Just a couple months ago, in March, a wrong-way driver suspected of DUI hit a truck head-on causing serious injuries to the truck driver and minor injuries to another driver whose vehicle was also struck.