SAN DIEGO -- A Navy petty officer was convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for driving his pickup over the side of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and killing four people when he landed in Chicano Park.
In addition to the four counts of manslaughter, Richard Anthony Sepolio, 27, was also found guilty of DUI causing bodily injury and causing bodily injury or death to more than one victim.
The charges stemmed from the Oct. 15, 2016, crash that killed Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona; and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jiminez, 46. Seven other people were seriously injured.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told jurors in closing arguments that Sepolio chose "to drive irritated, impaired and impatient." Prosecutors argued that in addition to having drinks prior to getting behind the wheel, Sepolio was arguing with his girlfriend over the phone just moments before losing control of his truck on the bridge.
Sepolio testified he was driving on the transition ramp -- a route back to Coronado that he had driven more than 90 times before -- when he sped up to merge in front of another car and lost control.
The defendant said he remembered being on top of a freeway barrier looking down, then waking up in the park and being pulled out of his truck. Sepolio said his memory was mostly "cloudy" about what happened after his truck plunged into the crowd below.
On the stand, he denied arguing with his then-girlfriend on the phone just before the crash, but admitted on cross-examination that he'd just left a lunch with a female Navy colleague where "the idea was to go out and have a good time." Sepolio testified he had a glass of alcoholic cider and a glass of wine at lunch before heading back to Coronado.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Paul Pfingst said multiple breath and blood tests showed that Sepolio was not under the influence of alcohol the day of the crash. One blood sample was taken to a California Highway Patrol office and wasn't tested for a year, Pfingst told the jury.
"They took his blood and they destroyed it ... and they say it's no big deal," the defense attorney said.