Richard Sepolio Takes Stand in Deadly Chicano Park Crash More Than 2 Years Later

What to Know

  • A pickup truck plunged 60 feet off the Coronado Bridge transition ramp into Chicano Park.
  • The truck was going approximately 63 miles per hour before striking a barricade and going airborne, according to airbag system data.
  • Prosecutors allege the defendant was distracted behind the wheel, sending a text message on his cellphone.

A U.S. Navy petty officer accused of reckless driving and driving under the influence, testified Tuesday that he was fully capable of driving before his pickup launched from the Coronado Bridge into a park full of people in October 2016. 

Richard Sepolio, 27, faces multiple felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence in the crash that killed four people in Barrio Logan.

Sepolio described the morning before the incident when he took the stand in San Diego Superior Court. 

He had brunch with a fellow sailor and they ordered a bottle of wine. Sepolio testified he had a glass of wine before taking an Uber to his friend's home where he hung out for an hour. 

He said he called his girlfriend when walking back to his truck but denied they had had an argument. 

Sepolio said while he was driving, he placed the phone on speaker with his wallet in the center console of his truck. 

As he was driving back home to Coronado, there was a car in front of him going slower in the left lane. He drove into the right lane and as he was about to pass the slower car, he said the car began to go faster. So he also started to go faster. 

Sepolio testified he thought he had enough space to pass but it didn't feel right to him. 

The only thing he remembered was looking down at the right-hand rail. 

The next thing he remembers is the truck was rolled on its side and he saw that his wallet and phone had fallen from the console. 

He grabbed his wallet and phone and was pulled out of the truck.  

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst has acknowledged Sepolio was speeding while trying to pass another vehicle right before the crash, but made it clear he believed Sepolio was not drunk or negligent.

Officials said Sepolio was driving at more than 80 miles per hour when the posted limit was 65 miles per hour.

The trial starts for the Navy man facing multiple charges, including DUI and vehicular manslaughter, after he drove off the Coronado Bridge in 2016. NBC 7's Audra Stafford has more.

Sepolio was traveling north on Interstate 5 and had exited on the ramp that leads to the Coronado Bridge when he veered off and landed on a large group attending a festival at Chicano Park.

Cruz Elias Contreras, 52; AnnaMarie Contreras, 50; Andre Christopher Banks, 49; Francine Denise Jimenez, 46, were killed.

[G] Trial Begins in Case of Truck Crash Off Coronado Bridge

Prosecutor Cally Bright said at least one lab test put Sepolio's blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

However, Pfingst said multiple tests put Sepolio below the .08 blood alcohol level limit. Additionally, he said police and prosecutors mishandled a crucial piece of laboratory evidence that would support his claim that Sepolio was not drunk.

Sepolio testified that at the hospital, after a law enforcement officer directed him to provide a breath sample, the device read .05 and .06 and he recalled the officer saying "You're not drunk." 

However, under cross-examination, Sepolio was asked about other statements officers have said the defendant made following the crash. 

When asked if he recalled telling an officer that he was having issues and had been in an argument that day, Sepolio said he did not remember saying that.

He also doesn't remember receiving text messages from his girlfriend within an hour of the crashing telling him "I don't want you to hate me" and "I'm sorry I'm such a bad girlfriend."

“What a horrible event, what a horrible tragedy it was,” Pfingst told the jury earlier in January. “But that does not (have) anything to do with alcohol. It doesn't change the fact that he not driving under the influence. And the only greater tragedy would be to convict an innocent man of a crime he didn't commit."

If convicted on all counts, Sepolio could face a maximum sentence of 23 years in prison.

Judge Charles G. Rogers allowed video cameras in for opening statements and has said he would allow video recording of closing statements but denied NBC 7 access to witness testimony in the trial including Sepolio's testimony.

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