October 21, 2016

Truck Crashes into Chicano Park, Four Dead

By La Prensa San Diego

By Sandra G. Leon and Alexandra Mendoza 20161018_143430

A truck driving on the on-ramp to the Coronado Bridge crashed over the side railing and landed in Chicano Park on Saturday, October 15, killing four people and injuring eight others.
The driver, Navy aviation technician Richard Sepolio, 24, was heading home to Coronado after drinking wine and cocktails at a restaurant and visiting a friend’s home. The friend counseled Sepolio not to drive after drinking, according to a county district attorney prosecutor.
Sepolio lost control of his truck as he transitioned from Northbound I-5 onto the Coronado Bridge. His truck flew over the concrete guardrail, fell 60 feet and landed in Chicano Park during a motorcycle event with over 3,000 attendees. Four people were declared dead at the scene.
The incident has spurred an urgent call to improve safety measures on the Coronado Bridge from Barrio Logan residents.
Chicano Park Steering Committee President Tomasa “Tommie” Camarillo, demanded immediate action, as she reminded the public that this is not the first time a vehicle falls to the park from the bridge. The activist, who has been fighting to protect the park site for over 40 years, mentioned that in the past a motorcycle and a truck have also fallen from the bridge.
Camarillo asked for high safety railings to be installed as quickly as possible so that the tragedy from last week does not repeat itself.
“This is a park. There are children playing here all the time,” Camarillo said. “We hold activities here, weddings, dance ceremonies, and walks. The only thing we ask for is to install high safety railings as soon as possible,” she added.
Caltrans District Director Laurie Berman has stated that there is an investigation underway to determine the exact causes of the accident, and the California Highway Patrol is still conducting its investigating of the accident.
In the meantime, local politicians have voiced their concerns over the accident and added their names to the call for action.
On Tuesday, State Senator Ben Hueso held a press conference at the site of the accident to announce his call for improvements on the Coronado Bridge.
“This tragic event will bring about safety improvements, not only for this community, but for everyone who uses this bridge,” said Senator Hueso. “Four people lost their lives in less than a second. We don’t even know if they were aware of what happened.”
Senator Hueso sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown and Caltrans authorities in which he asked for funds which would allow for improvements to prevent accidents such as the one seen from happening again.
“We are united, mourning these deaths, but we are united in our search for answers, in our search for solutions and action,” Hueso added.
Another elected official, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, sent a Twitter message after the accident saying she “always feared this would happen in Chicano Park” and that “we must demand a full investigation by Caltrans and any measures to prevent this in the future.”
The victims, who were attendees at the annual La Raza Run motorcycle gathering, have been identified as Annamarie and Cruz Contreras, 50 and 52 years old respectively, from Chandler, Arizona; and Andre Banks, 49, and his wife, Francine Jiménez, 45, from Hacienda Heights in the Los Angeles County. Other spectators were able to move out of the way of the truck, reducing the number of people injured.
The driver, Sepolio, was assigned to Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado for one year, and was training for the test to enter the elite Navy SEALs program. He suffered a fractured neck, broken left hand, broken ribs and other injuries in the accident.
Sepolio was arraigned at the UCSD Medical Center on Wednesday this week before Judge Eugenia Eyherabide, who set his bail at $2 million. Sepolio was charged with four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two other DUI-related charges. If convicted, he could face up to 23 years in prison.
The District Attorney’s office reported that Sepolio’s blood alcohol content level was .08 percent half an hour after the crash. That is the legal limit for drivers in California. Sepolio’s defense attorney, former District Attorney Paul Pfingst, said a number of blood-alcohol tests conducted on Sepolio showed results ranging from .04 to .08 or .09 percent. The CHP has not yet released the results of its blood alcohol tests.

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