Driver accused in fatal Chicano Park crash ordered to stand trial on gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI charges

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — A Navy aviation electrician who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol and speeding when his pickup truck careened off a transition ramp to the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge and onto a kiosk below in Chicano Park, killing four people, was ordered Monday to stand trial on gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges.

Richard Sepolio, 25, is accused in the Oct. 15 deaths of Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona, and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jimenez, 46.

After a preliminary hearing that began last month, Judge Kathleen Lewis found that enough evidence was presented for Sepolio to stand trial.

Related Link: Family members of Chicano Park crash victims speak out

The judge said Sepolio’s actions constituted gross negligence, and that he was under the influence at the time of the 3:30 p.m. crash. Lewis noted that an officer detected an odor of alcohol coming from Sepolio’s breath and that the defendant admitted that he was feeling the effects of alcohol after the crash.

Sepolio, who was based at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, faces nearly 24 years in prison if convicted.

Related Link: Victims identified in Coronado Bridge crash tragedy

California Highway Patrol Officer Juan Jimenez, who arrested Sepolio at a hospital, testified last month that he observed that Sepolio had red, watery eyes.

Jimenez said Sepolio blew into a preliminary alcohol screening device twice, with readings of .059 percent and .060 percent blood-alcohol content, and later had his blood drawn.

An expert testified that the defendant’s blood-alcohol level was between .08 and .09 percent at the time of the crash.

Sepolio’s attorney, Paul Pfingst, argued unsuccessfully that his client’s actions constituted ordinary negligence, not gross negligence.

Pfingst said there was no evidence that Sepolio was on a cell phone arguing with his girlfriend at the time of the accident, as prosecutors suggested.

The attorney said Sepolio lost control of his truck as he tried to pass another vehicle on the transition ramp, hit the left guardrail and careened across the road, over the right guardrail and into the park.

Related Link: Evidence against Navy man accused of killing four in Coronado bridge crash still being evaluated by judge

Pfingst argued that Sepolio’s blood-alcohol content could have been under .08 percent.

Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told the judge that Sepolio was going 87 mph in a 45 mph zone after drinking at lunch.

Carlos Ulloa, who lives nearby, testified last month that he was checking out an event at the park about 3:30 p.m. when he heard screeching tires and saw the defendant’s truck flying over the guardrail.

"When this thing flew, it was like out of a movie,” Ulloa said. "It flew like Superman over a kiosk.”

Ulloa estimated 300 to 500 people were in the park at the time.

He said he ran over to the smashed pickup — which landed on its wheels — and just shook his head at the man in the driver’s seat. Ulloa said the defendant looked disoriented and his eyes looked red.

A friend and Navy colleague of Sepolio’s, Stephanie Ruiz, said she took the defendant to brunch earlier that day because he had done her a favor.

Ruiz said Sepolio had one beer and a glass of wine at a restaurant, then the two had an Uber driver take them back to her home. She said the defendant stayed at her place for about an hour, then drove off.

Ruiz told Pfingst that Sepolio didn’t appear to be intoxicated when he left her house.

Sepolio will be back in court Sept. 21 for arraignment.

Categories: Local San Diego News