San Diego

Navy Petty Officer Convicted in Fatal Chicano Park Crash

Richard Anthony Sepolio was acquitted on the most serious charge of gross vehicular manslaughter

A U.S. Navy petty officer was convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence in the October 2016 crash that killed four people in Chicano Park, south of San Diego.

Jurors waded through a very complicated series of criminal counts and special allegations to return not guilty verdicts on the charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving over the legal limit with a measurable amount of alcohol and reckless driving resulting in serious injury.

Richard Anthony Sepolio did not show emotion as Judge Charles Roger read the verdicts for almost an hour.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said his client was found not to be driving above the legal limit but was still convicted of driving under the influence.

“It is unusual,” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve been in that position as a lawyer.”

He added that they were relieved that his client was acquitted on the most serious charge with was gross vehicular manslaughter.

Prosecutor Cally Bright said the verdict is a message that just because a driver doesn't reach a blood-alcohol level of .08 doesn't mean he or she isn't an impaired driver.

She said Sepolio could face a maximum of 18 years behind bars when he is sentenced on April 2.

Matthew Miller, Juror 9, spoke outside court and said there were a lot of factors that went into the verdict.

“It was a very difficult decision to come to,” said Miller. “It was a terrible tragedy that occurred but we also too felt that alcohol played an impact on this crash.” 

As for the not guilty verdicts, there was a number of jurors who felt the influence of the alcohol took away some of the forethought that rose to the level of gross negligence, he said.

The jury signaled it had reached a verdict on Monday but the judge scheduled the reading of the verdict until family members of the victims could travel to San Diego.

A crowd of family members met outside of the court just before 9 a.m. and held hands and prayed in the hallway. 

“We believed this whole time that he was under the influence and that he acted without a reason with the speed of his vehicle,” said Timothy Contreras, nephew of Cruz and AnnaMarie Contreras.

[G] 4 Killed, Several Injured After Truck Flies Off Coronado Bridge Into Park

After the verdict was complete, Sepolio was handcuffed in court and remanded to custody without bail. The judge said he did not make the decision lightly.

“Mr. Sepolio has conducted himself honorably throughout the case,” the judge said. “However different considerations apply once a person has been found guilty of a felony, particularly a serious felony.” 

“Stay strong” was Sepolio’s message to his family, Pfingst said. 
Sepolio was injured when his pickup truck launched off of the Coronado Bridge on Oct. 15, 2016.  He suffered serious injuries to his back, ribs, and hands in the crash testified that he was not drunk or on his phone when he was speeding while trying to pass another vehicle right before the crash.

Prosecutors allege Sepolio was driving 81 miles per hour four seconds before his car left the bridge and crashed 60 feet below into a crowded Chicano Park. 

An expert testified the pickup's brakes were activated one second before the pickup collided with a barricade on the bridge.

Family members of the victims killed in the fiery crash have been present throughout the trial listening to testimony regarding Sepolio's brunch with a fellow sailor, his phone call to a girlfriend and the multiple blood-alcohol tests that were administered after the crash.

Cruz Elias Contreras, 52; AnnaMarie Contreras, 50; Andre Christopher Banks, 49 and Francine Denise Jimenez, 46 died as a result of the collision. 

Prosecutors have said Sepolio's injuries prevented officials from performing an accurate breathalyzer test and that blood drawn later provided a more accurate measurement.

An hour after the initial tests, a blood sample was drawn and Sepolio's BAC was measured at .08.

Sepolio's defense attorney Paul Pfingst told jurors during the trial that several tests administered by law enforcement officials put Sepolio below the .08 blood alcohol level limit. 

Prosecutors have also said Sepolio was distracted behind the wheel, sending a text message on his cellphone.

Sepolio was forced off the bridge by another vehicle which ultimately led to the tragic crash, according to his defense attorney.

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