In legal documents filed Monday, the family of an Italian woman killed when she was hit by a car on the Venice Beach boardwalk last summer says the city of Los Angeles knew the many unrestricted access points to the busy tourist magnet created a dangerous situation and did nothing to rectify the problem.
Newlywed Alice Gruppioni, 32, died from blunt force trauma when she was struck by a Dodge Avenger driven by Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, in August. She was visiting the busy outdoor tourist spot while honeymooning with her husband, Christian Casadei, who was one of 16 others also injured in the melee.
"Our honeymoon was supposed to be the start of our life," Casadei said in a video interview from Italy on Monday, adding that returning to their native Bologna without her was difficult and not a day has gone by that he hasn't thought of her.
"It's so hard. Life is not the same at all," he said.
Campbell is facing murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run charges and has been ordered to stand trial. His attorney has called the incident a "tragic accident," while prosecutors allege he intentionally drove into the busy boardwalk, intending to hurt as many people as possible.
Casadei said they had included Los Angeles in their honeymoon plans because his new wife was a fan of the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" and wanted to see where it was made. At the time of her death, Gruppioni was working for her father's company, radiator manufacturer Sira Group, where it was thought she would one day take over the family business.
The small Bologna suburb where the firm is based lit the town's Christmas tree in honor of Alice this winter. "She was really, really close to the family," her father, Valerio, said quietly in Italian to his sister, who translated. "She was the one we all centered around. It's really, really hard."
While Casadei and Gruppioni's family declined to discuss the specifics of the incident, lawyers for the family filed a Section 910 claim Monday, often the first step toward instituting a civil lawsuit against a city. Once filed, the city has 45 days to respond; if it denies the claim or the time expires, the family can then pursue a lawsuit.
In the documents, the family asserts that the city "failed to protect against the dangers of a vehicle driving on the boardwalk by failing to have adequate barriers or bollards to prevent nonemergency vehicles from driving on the boardwalk." The claim also cites a motion made by City Councilman Mike Bonin shortly after the incident, which said police officers reported as many as 15 cars a day accidentally or intentionally driving on the boardwalk.
Gregory Bentley, an attorney with Los Angeles firm Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley, said the family hopes an agreement between the two sides can be reached.
"We're hopeful that the city will understand there's a problem and will accept the 910 claim and be willing to discuss resolution of the case informally," Bentley said. "If that should not occur, the family plans to fully prosecute and move forward with a lawsuit against the city, because there is a dangerous condition out there at this location."
Pointing to the numerous reported incidents of cars turning onto Ocean Front Walk, he noted the city should have known better protection was needed for the roadway.
Although the street where Campbell maneuvered his car onto the walkway did have a cement barrier blocking road access, Bentley said it was not enough.
"Vehicles should never be on this boardwalk unless it's emergency personnel. And once the city knew or should have known that there is a dangerous condition out there, they need to do something to protect vehicles getting on the boardwalk. They need to take protective measures to protect against this type of activity from happening."
A spokesman for the city attorney said he was unsure if the office had received the claim documents or if anyone had yet reviewed them for possible comment.
Also Monday, a Los Angeles city panel took the first steps to improve security at Venice Beach where the incident occured.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the area, told the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee there needed to be improved management over Venice Beach, with the first step being the naming of a supervisor to have overall responsibility.
Among other things, Bonin suggested the installation of more security cameras and a loudspeaker system. "If there is a major incident, there is no way for the police to instruct tens of thousands of people on what they should do to get to safety," he said, echoing that authorities at the scene told him it's often up to a dozen times a day when drivers make a wrong turn onto the boardwalk.
The panel adopted a report prepared by the department and forwarded it to the City Council's Budget Committee.
Staff Writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report. ___