SAN DIEGO — The future of a Navy petty officer accused of driving drunk when he plummeted off Coronado Bridge into Chicano Park below, killing four people, is now in the hands of a jury.
Richard Sepolio, 27, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI and reckless driving for 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. Seven other people were seriously injured.
Closing arguments concluded Thursday, with jurors beginning deliberations but not reaching a verdict. The deliberations will resume Monday. Sepolio faces at least 23 years and eight months in prison if convicted of all charges.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told jurors during closing arguments of Sepolio’s trial the victims were enjoying a Saturday in the park “when death fell upon them.”
In alleging that Sepolio displayed a conscious disregard for human life, Bright said the defendant “was more concerned with calling his command (after the accident). That was his concern.”
As his closing argument began, 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.
Pfingst said Sepolio wasn’t guilty of speeding or reckless driving, either.
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. Sepolio 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.
The defendant denied arguing with his then-girlfriend on the phone just before the crash. Sepolio said his memory was mostly “cloudy” about what happened after his truck plunged into the crowd below.
On cross-examination, Sepolio admitted he just come from 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.
He told Bright he didn’t remember a lot of what officers asked him at the hospital.