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Trial begins for sailor accused in deadly Chicano Park crash

SAN DIEGO -- Opening statements are scheduled Monday in the trial of a Navy man accused of driving drunk and speeding when his pickup truck careened off a transition ramp to the Coronado Bridge and onto a kiosk below in Chicano Park, killing four people.

Richard Sepolio, 27, faces charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI and other counts in connection with the Oct. 15, 2016, deaths of Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona, and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jiminez, 46.

An officer testified at a previous court hearing that he detected an odor of alcohol coming from Sepolio's breath after the 3:30 p.m. crash and said the defendant admitted that he was feeling the effects of alcohol. An expert testified that Sepolio's blood-alcohol content was between .08 and .09 percent at the time of the crash

Sepolio's attorney, Paul Pfingst, argued that his client's BAC could have been under .08 percent.

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

Pfingst 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, where one witness estimated 300 to 500 people were gathered.

Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said Sepolio was going 87 mph in a 45 mph zone after drinking at lunch.

A friend and Navy colleague of Sepolio's, Stephanie Ruiz, testified at a preliminary hearing in 2017 that 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 took an Uber back to her place. She said the defendant stayed at her home for about an hour, then drove off.

Sepolio, an aviation electrician based at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, faces nearly 24 years in prison if convicted.

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