Former Navy Petty Officer Convicted in Fatal Chicano Park Crash Released From Prison

"In less than three years of serving, he is going to be out free after killing four people. That is not even a year for each of the victims he killed," said one of the victim's daughters

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A man who drove drunk and killed four people when his pickup truck went off the Coronado Bay Bridge and into a crowd in Chicano Park in 2016 was released from prison early on Friday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed.

Richard Anthony Sepolio, a former U.S. Navy petty officer who is now 27 years old, was released on parole in San Diego County on Friday, five months early, after earning credits for participating in "fire camp" that brought down his sentence, the CDCR said.

His lawyer, Paul Pfingst, said he has the freedom to go where he chooses with his parole officer's approval, adding Sepolio was one of the nicest and most cooperative clients.

Sepolio was sentenced in May 2019 to 9 years and 8 months in prison for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury. He was granted time served and according to CDCR records was scheduled to be released in April 2021.

"I don't know why I survived," Richard Anthony Sepolio said of the October 2016 Chicano Park crash that killed four people. "I wish I could trade places with them."

"Together, his time served and his earned credits bring Sepolio under 180 days left to serve, making him eligible for release under CDCR’s efforts to maximize space as part of its  COVID-19 mitigation efforts," CDCR said in a release.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office was opposed to the release, and made it known in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the CDCR on Monday after the DA and some of Sepolio's victims were notified of the impending release.

District Attorney Summer Stephan called the decision "unconscionable."

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

"CDCR’s decision is re-victimizing the family and friends of the four people killed and seven injured who have been devastated by their loss and continue to deal with the financial, emotional, mental and physical trauma caused by the defendant," Stephan wrote.

"This inmate continues to deny and minimize the crime by refusing to admit he was speeding and denying being impaired while arguing with his girlfriend on the phone, which resulted in the devastating crash.”

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.

“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.” 

The man convicted of driving drunk and veering off the Coronado Bridge, killing four people below, is scheduled for an early release from prison. NBC 7’s Nicole Gomez shares what one victim’s family member has to say.

Prosecutors said 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, where hundreds were gathered for a motorcycle rally. They said Sepolio was distracted behind the wheel, sending a text message on his cellphone.

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

Like the DA's office, family members of the victims weren't happy to learn about Sepolio's pending release.

"In less than three years of serving, he is going to be out free after killing four people. That is not even a year for each of the victims he killed," Said Maryann Cont Contreras, daughter of Cruz and AnnaMrie Contreras.

Family members of Chicano Park crash victims react to today's sentencing of Navy petty officer. NBC 7's Danny Freeman has more.

"We have to wake up tomorrow and feel this feeling all over a again," The couple's nephew added. "Rehabilitation perhaps can be accomplished, but not within a short 25% of his sentence."

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. He testified that he was not drunk or on his phone when he was speeding while trying to pass another vehicle right before the crash.

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