SAN DIEGO -- A Navy man who was behind the wheel of a pickup that plummeted over the side of a transition ramp to the San Diego- Coronado Bridge and landed in Chicano Park, killing four people, was sentenced Thursday to nine years and eight months in prison.
The sentence was the maximum available for Richard Anthony Sepolio, 27. He was convicted in February for 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.
Sepolio was convicted of four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one count of DUI causing injury.
The same jury acquitted him of four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, seven counts of reckless driving and one count of driving over the legal alcohol limit and causing injury.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told jurors Sepolio chose "to drive irritated, impaired and impatient." In addition to having drinks prior to getting behind the wheel, Sepolio was arguing with his girlfriend on the phone just moments before losing control of his truck on the bridge, the prosecutor said.
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.
Whether Sepolio was intoxicated was a point of contention during the trial, particularly with one blood sample not tested for more than a year after the crash, according to his attorney.
While the jury did not find Sepolio guilty of the greatest charge he faced -- gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated -- jurors agreed that Sepolio was under the influence.
Bright said she believed Sepolio was grossly negligent due to driving while under the influence and distracted, but supported the jury's findings, which included its rejection of the charge that Sepolio was intoxicated above the legal blood-alcohol limit.